What is a compostable plastic?

A compostable plastic is a plastic product designed to biodegrade when properly managed at an industrial compost facility. A plastic product designed to biodegrade does not necessarily compost. Plastics are designed to biodegrade in specific environments, including a marine environment, sunlight, soil, and some are intended to degrade at an industrial compost facility. A compostable plastic is defined by the standards association American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) as “a plastic that undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield carbon dioxide (CO2), water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with other known compostable materials and that leaves no visible, distinguishable, or toxic residue.” For more, see page 2 of the Compostable Plastics 101 Paper.

How do I know if my cup is compostable?

The most certain way to tell if your product/packaging is compostable is to check if it displays the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) label. The BPI is a not-for-profit trade association that provides independent third party verification to ensure that a product has been tested by a laboratory adhering to a scientific testing process that ensures the product will safely break down in a commercial composting facility…more

Can I compost plastic at home?

No, compostable plastics do not completely break down in a reasonable period of time in a home composting environment. In order to biodegrade, compostable plastics need to be placed into the end-of-life environment for which they were designed. If placed in the wrong environment, not only is a compostable plastic prevented from delivering many of its potential environmental benefits, but it can hinder the efforts of composters or recyclers. Composters and materials processing facilities need easily recognizable labels for appropriate sorting… For more, see page 13 of the Compostable Plastics 101 Paper

How do I get involved in the conversation?

Thanks for your interest! There are several ways you can get involved. You may use the Connect feature on this site to submit questions or comments to the US Composting Council’s Compostable Plastics Task Force and receive information from experts in the composting industry. Please provide feedback on the topic and specific tools which helps the conversation on compostable plastics, and is something we are looking for from the toolkit users. You are also welcome to join the task force and add your voice to a dialog among plastics producers, product manufacturers, purchasers and consumers, recycling program managers and composters.

This toolkit is designed to help you determine if a compostable plastics program is appropriate for your organization and to guide you in properly managing your compostable plastics.

*Resources outlined in this toolkit are examples from a variety of sources to help facilitate a better understanding of compostable products and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Compost Research and Education Foundation (CREF).

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