January 19, 2010 | General

Compostable Plastics Standard

BioCycle January 2010, Vol. 51, No. 1, p. 52
Compost Canada
Susan Antler

THE process to establish Canada’s national specification standard for compostable plastics has entered the public consultation stage. From now until the deadline on February 15, 2010, the proposed standard is available for review and input prior to its finalization and approval by the Standards Council of Canada.
This current standard development process is an update to the existing Canadian certification program (BNQ 9011—911: Compostable Plastics Bags – Certification Program). It reflects both the ISO Standard and an interest in including materials and products made from compostable materials, such as plastics and cellulose fibers. The process was given life through Compost Council of Canada’s (CCC) members’ efforts to secure funding through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). The Bureau de Normalisation du Québec (BNQ), using the funds raised by the CCC, was assigned the responsibility to develop this proposed standard through input from manufacturers, compost facilities and product users, regulatory authorities and other interested organizations.
Available on the BNQ website, the draft standard (Project P 17088-2) closely parallels the ISO Standard 17088 – Specifications for Compostable Plastics, whose purpose is to establish standards for identifying and labeling products and materials that will compost satisfactorily in well-managed composting facilities where the typical conditions of composting can be consistently obtained (i.e., a long thermophilic phase, aerobic conditions, sufficient water content, a suitable carbon/nitrogen ratio, etc.).
The standard reflects four aspects of key importance to supporting a compostable claim: Ultimate level of biodegradation; Degree of disintegration during composting; Any negative efforts on the composting process and facility; and Any negative effects on the quality of the resulting compost, including the presence of high levels of regulated metals and other harmful components.
Included as the key basic requirements for a material or product to support a compostable claim are: 1) Its disintegration during composting such that anything remaining is not readily distinguishable from the other organic materials in the finished compost; 2) It being tested to confirm no adverse effect on the ability of the compost to support plant growth when compared to compost not containing the reference substance; and 3) Its conformity with concentrations of regulated metals that, at maximum, are less than 50 percent of those prescribed for finished compost.
Key proposed differences from the ISO standard are in the Marking & Labeling directives. The Canadian proposal recommends only including the claim “compostable” versus the second descriptor option, “biodegradable by composting,” which is considered by the review committee as potentially confusing and not in conformance with the additional requirements set out by the standard. Also proposed is that there is no reference to the country where the product or material is to be marketed or composted to avoid any confusion with where the product might have been produced.
To request a copy of the ISO Standard 17088 for your review, please contact the BNQ Secretariat: The proposed Canadian standard may be found by visiting: (Public Enquiries).

The opening of a composting facility is frequently accompanied by a flurry of press releases, ribbon cuttings and positive words from political representatives. It is a time when the hard work of planning, building and implementation is celebrated and hope surrounds. At the other end of the spectrum – the closing of a facility – there is little fanfare and the significant absence of any political “leaders.”
There is no question that the recent closure of the composting facility at Correctional Service of Canada’s Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alberta is incredibly sad and a very difficult situation to witness. This is particularly difficult when we are surrounded with public statements of everyone’s care for the environment and the belief that this particular decision did not reflect the facility’s performance and ongoing potential but rather the new strategic direction of the government portfolio in which it existed. If our current decision makers can’t be swayed to change this decision, then let the second half of this month’s column be used to recognize and applaud the great work and dedication of the team at Bowden’s Compost Facility.
Started in 1991/92 as a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) initiative to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, Bowden’s Compost Facility’s opening coincided with the closing of the institution’s landfill. The original windrows were “fed” with the institution’s organics: residuals from the kitchen and landscaping operations as well as manure from the on-site feedlot. From there, the facility expanded to include preconsumer organic residuals from all the Safeway stores in Alberta, cattle manures, and municipal yard trimmings and biosolids from the towns of Innisfail, Taber and Canmore.
At capacity, the facility processed 800 metric tons/month with the finished compost being used “in-house” in the greenhouse and landscaping departments of Bowden Institution, replacing commercial fertilizer. A small portion was also sold to the public and landscapers for use in gardens, flower beds and lawns.
CORCAN, a Special Operating Agency of CSC that has the mandate of contributing to the successful reintegration of offenders, eventually took over the operations, running it as one of their business enterprises. With one dedicated staff person and additional staffing as required, up to 20 inmates were employed at any one time in the operation, responsible for the initial sorting, grinding and mixing, windrowing, turning and monitoring. In addition to significant per capita waste diversion, Bowden was the first federal institution to be licensed by Alberta Environment to operate a Class A Compost facility. The facility and staff provided tremendous support to the training and awareness programs of our Council. One of the key highlights of CORCAN’s annual national report in 2005/2006 was the agreement signed with Safeway to compost 6,000 metric tons annually at the Bowden Institution.
Add a couple of years and as a result of a Strategic Review, CSC decided to “gradually phase out the six CORCAN farm operations located in federal institutions including the composting operation at Bowden. This decision was intended to better address the employment needs and realities of offenders.” And while pendulums are well known to be able to reverse their swing, an appeal to the current Federal Minister of Public Safety has fallen on deaf ears. All external customers have received termination letters with some extensions provided to March 31, 2010.
In the written words received from our inquiry, “CSC will be working with Alberta Environment to ensure proper decommission of the composting pads to ensure minimum impact on the environment.” Once this step happens, it will be up to us to remember and celebrate the “maximum impact on the environment” that Bowden’s Compost Facility achieved during its days and years of operations.

Susan Antler is Executive Director of the Compost Council of Canada, which is gearing up to start its 20th Anniversary celebrations in 2010.

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