January 23, 2023 | Compostable Packaging, Composting, Facilities, Operations

Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilots

Top: Composting facilities in different climates using different methods and technologies were selected for the Degradation Pilot. Photos courtesy of Napa Recycling

The Composting Consortium, a collaboration of industry partners managed by Closed Loop Partners (CLP), announced the launch of its Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilot. CLP describes the initiative — which brings together the Consortium’s 25 partners, composting industry groups like the Composting Research and Education Foundation (CREF), and ASTM International — as “the most comprehensive collaborative study of real-world compostable packaging disintegration in the U.S. to date.” The pilot aims to improve available data on how certified, food-contact compostable foodware and packaging is currently breaking down at various types of composting facilities. More than 30 types of certified compostable products and packaging — including compostable cutlery, molded fiber bowls, bioplastic cups and snack packaging — are being evaluated across facilities operating in varying climates, and with different composting methods and equipment. Participating facilities include Ag Choice (NJ); Atlas Organics (SC); Black Earth Compost (MA); The Food Bank, Inc. of Dayton (OH); Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting (MT); Napa Recycling (CA); Specialized Environmental Technologies, Inc.’s Empire Facility (MN); Veteran Compost (MD); and Windham Solid Waste Management (VT).

More than 30 types of certified compostable packaging and products are being evaluated. Mesh bags (above) will be used for the pilots. Photo courtesy of BSIbio

Findings from the assessment will inform the Consortium’s broader work to align the rapid growth of compostable packaging with on-the-ground operational and business needs of industrial composters. Collected data from this pilot will be donated to the CFTP, Compostable Field Testing Program (CFTP), a nonprofit international research platform which facilitates field testing across North America. The CFTP is designed to develop comprehensive baseline data that correlates composting conditions with the disintegration of common compostable products and packaging. The Consortium’s donation of this data will accelerate the open-source publication timeline for the CFTP’s data set. Additionally, the Degradation Pilot will serve as a trial for the first (and still developing) in-field standard for assessing disintegration of compostable items at composting facilities, under development within ASTM International. Results from this pilot will help to enhance and accelerate the final ASTM field test standard through ASTM Committee WK80528 for both mesh bag and bulk dose test methods. CFTP is supporting the pilot by providing its methodology, composter training and operations. Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), a sustainability and recycling consulting firm, will administer the on-site data collection and lead the data analysis and reporting.

The Degradation Pilot is a critical step in the Composting Consortium’s broader work to identify best practices in areas including consumer understanding of compostable packaging labeling and collection; sortation and sensing technologies; and policy. The Consortium will continue its collaborative work to build a roadmap for catalytic capital inputs that can support composting infrastructure in the U.S., find ways to increase the amount of food waste diverted from landfills and determine where compostable food packaging could add value to the system.

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