Keeping organics out of landfills is becoming more and more of a core sustainability goal for individuals and organizations of all kinds, and compostable foodservice packaging has long been recognized as a lynchpin in this effort. BPI member companies have made extensive contributions to the cause by developing products like hot cups, cold cups, cutlery, and take out packaging made from fibers and resins that perform in a foodservice context, yet also break down in commercial compost facilities alongside other organic material.
But the need for compostable alternatives extend well beyond the realm of cups and plates, and include things like flexible packaging for snacks, coffee, etc. - product categories that are staples of consumer demand across retail environments like campuses, stadiums, and grocery stores. These flexible packs often use less material than rigids, but are extremely difficult to recycle due to multiple layers of materials, and compostable options have been difficult to come by. Progress is being made, and we’d like to highlight some of that here.
Organic Waste Bags
The first product category where the use of compostable films was commercialized was bags for collecting food scraps. These composable bags are used by households and businesses alike to make collection clean and easy, while not contaiminating the compost with conventional plastic film. BPI members like BioBag, Heritage, EcoSafe, Natur Tec, GLAD, and Inteplast have pioneered products for this category, and have improved their performance considerably over the years. It is now common to see compostable bags in widespread use in both commercial and residential waste generating environments.
It is no secret that there is an ongoing love affair with “convenient snacking”, not just in America but around the world, which is why snack bags have been a recent focus of product development for BPI member companies like Futamura, TC Ultraflex, BASF, Bi-Ax International, Danimer, NatureWorks and Pepsi. More than five years ago BASF worked with Safeco Field in Seattle to pilot a compostable peanut bag as a way to create a diversion option for the many, many bags of peanuts consumed at Seattle Mariners baseball games. This has continued to evolve, most recently with a pilot with the Kansas City Chiefs, partnering with local composter Missouri Organic Recycling.
PepsiCo famously brought to market the first compostable chip bag for their Sun Chip brand in 2006, and then relaunched the product in 2011 to better fit consumer preferences. Just this past week, they were recognized alongside Danimer Scientific for another product development success in the chip bag product category. The award was given by the Plastics Industry Association in association with their Bioplastics Week event. You can read more about the award here.
Futamura launched a commercial chip bag in Germany with my CHIPSBOX, which it reports has applications for in the US as well. And it has been partnering with convertors in America for snack bar wrappers, being tested for certification now.
Closer to home, several companies have found success with compostable zip bags for snacks on the go, like SC Johonson, BioBag, TIPA, and Repurpose.
Coffee and Tea Packaging
Barrier packaging for coffee has been a hot topic, with successes from TC Ultraflex and their compostable “mother bags” designed to keep compostable coffee pods fresh. More recently TC Ultraflex commercialized a more complex compostable package for whole bean and ground coffee, launched with Oakland Coffee.
Compostable coffee pods have been taking over the shelves, led by Club Coffee, and Rogers Family, Oakland Coffee, and Canterbury Coffee.
Tea companies are following right behind, working with Futamura on a tea bag wrappers, as well as with Ahlstrom, Asahi and Yamanaka for the tea bags and filters themselves.
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Much has been made of Flourinated Chemicals recently and their presence in some take out packaging. It is common for these chemicals to be referred to by the acronym PFAS, which stands for polyflourinated alkyl substance, but BPI will refer to them as Flourniated Chemicals or FCs. The City of San Francisco recently passed an ordinance stating, among other things, that,
“After January 1, 2020 all compostable foodware that is distributed, sold, or provided in San Francisco must have no intentionally added fluorinated chemicals. To verify, foodware must be BPI certified.”
BPI has been actively engaged on the topic of fluorinated chemicals, and last fall the BPI board brought a vote to the membership about restricting and eventually eliminating fluorinated chemicals from the certification. Specifically, the proposal was to adopt the EN 13432 limit of 100 ppm total fluorine in 2019, and a statement of “no intentionally added fluorinated chemicals” shortly thereafter. The vote passed, and BPI and has communicated a list of key milestones and dates for its member companies that can be found here.
BPI’s overarching goal is to assist in the diversion of organic waste to composting, by verifying that products and packaging will completely break down in a professionally managed composting facility, without harming the quality of that compost. While data is still emerging, there was enough of an indication from scientists as well as composters that something needed to be done about the issue of fluorinated chemicals in products and packaging, specifically the products and packaging that BPI certifies as compostable. Cities like San Francisco, as well as many other stakeholders, rely on BPI certification to provide third-party verification of compostability. A separate part of the SF ordinance makes clear that,
“Foodware that is accepted in San Francisco’s composting program must be BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certified to be considered truly compostable.” Full text here.
In a consumer climate where it can be difficult to tell the difference between real benefits and false claims, BPI will continue to work with its member companies and many others in the effort to make claims of compostability for products and packaging as clear and trustworthy as possible.
The Michigan Recycling Coalition’s annual conference last week in Kalamazoo featured content about composting and anaerobic digestion, including a keynote presentation from BPI’s Executive Director, Rhodes Yepsen, about connecting the dots between food waste and compostable packaging. Speaking to a packed house, Yepsen provided an overview of the problem (high volumes of food wasted each year, causing environmental and economic harm), on both the National and Michigan level, and then shared some success stories from the state of Michigan.
Dozens of diversion programs already exist in Michigan, such as HopCat, a multi-unit concept that is able to achieve 85-93% diversion at its 15 restaurant locations that are composting back of house and front of house organics using all compostable food service products. Without composting, they would only be at 60-65% diversion!
Significant discussion at the conference was dedicated to upcoming legislation that could dramatically change the recycling and composting landscape, such as rewriting Part 115, the state’s solid waste rules, and SB 943, which would increase the landfill surcharges from $0.36/ton (the lowest in the region) to $4.44/ton. While this would only cost the average MI household $0.37/month, it would bring in $74 million annually to support recycling and composting initiatives.
BPI plans to continue building collaborations with state groups like MRC, to provide useful information and offer support on food waste diversion programs and compostable packaging. Besides MRC, BPI participated in a well-attended workshop with the MN Composting Council in 2016, and will be meeting with the Colorado Composting Council this July about partnerships.
Last October in Toronto, there was a roundtable discussion hosted by the National Zero Waste Council of Canada about enablers of, and barriers to, the recovery of compostable packaging in Canada.
Anytime you do something like this, it is essential to have representatives from as many stakeholder groups as possible. For this event, we were lucky to have voices from municipalities, provincial governments, composters, certifiers, distributors, retailers, product manufacturers, trade associations, and others. The conversations were productive, yielding a recently published report entitled, “Packaging and the Circular Economy: A Case Study on Compostables in Canada.”
One of the more commonly cited barriers was the lack of conformity between compostability standards and current composting processing conditions, and in particular, the variability of those composting conditions. This is nothing new to anyone who has been paying attention to the issues facing large scale organics diversion in North America and across the globe.
One example of BPI’s engagement on this topic is the technical leadership and support we have provided to the CCREF’s Open Source Field Testing program, which will collect data on how different composting conditions impact the ability of compostable products to disintegrate. You can read about that in this recent BioCycle magazine article.
Additionally, BPI is working with the Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA) on testing a variety of items in two different composting systems to get better data for our Members on how BPI Certified products perform in those systems. CMA is a nationwide partnership of compost manufacturing facilities providing field disintegration testing for food service products.
For BPI, it will always be about the broader diversion effort, and the crucial importance of keeping wasted food and other organics out of landfills. If there is one thing we should all be able to agree on, that is it.
Thanks in large part to shifts in consumer sentiment and broader awareness of environmental sustainability, “greener” alternatives to traditional products and services have become increasingly common in today’s world. Compostability, where products and packaging associated with food scraps are re-designed to break down in composting facilities, is one strategy being employed in the effort to send less “waste” to landfills.
In order for composters to feel confident that the products and packaging they allow into their facilities is actually compostable, and for consumers to be able to actually identify those products, a system of third-party verification is required, and that’s where BPI comes in.
Certification is critical for making sure claims are clear, consistent, and scientifically based. BPI’s certification logo is on over 6,500 products in North America, and has been used by companies for almost 20 years, providing simple and uniform identification.
We verify that products meet ASTM’s scientific specifications, using internationally recognized test methods for compostability, conducted by independent laboratories. No self-made claims to wade through, just the facts backed up by rigorous testing and review.
At BPI, we only certify products and packaging linked to food scraps diversion, or things that composters may actually want in their pile. While many landfill-bound items need to be redesigned, not all are suitable for composting. Considering that food scraps are the number one category of “waste” ending up in US landfills, the ability to more easily divert this stream to composting is a major goal for consumers, businesses and municipalities.
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