But, some misuse, misrepresent or outright mislead consumers with fuzzy, friendly terms that sound green but really are not.
As a service to our customers, compostables.org scans lists of certified compostable products published by independent certification companies like BPI, DIN Certco, OK, Compost, BNQ, EBPA and Cedar Grove.
However, these methods are not perfect. So you need to exercise a healthy bit of ‘buyer beware’ skepticism as you read each product description.
To help, here’s a list of several buzz words and phrases that may (or may not) mean you’re getting a truly compostable product:
- Certified by the U.S. Composting Council – FALSE. The US Composting council does NOT certify compostable products. They work with other industry groups to set standards to certify that products will safely compost. The only products the USCC does certify is COMPOST. So, when buying your gardening products, look for the USCC seal of compost quality. But not when you;’re buying compostable hot cups, napkins, plates and cutlery.
- “Compostable Cutlery, Plant Starch” – WARNING. Labeling something containing ‘plant starch’ and trying to pass it off as biodegradable is big red flag. Unless the item is 100% starch based (unlikely), it probably contains a little bit of starch and a whole lot of non-degradable plastic. At the very least, look for ASTM test results, verified by independent 3rd parties like Vinçotte and DIN Certco.
- ASTM-Tested: Another red flag. ASTM is a not-for-profit association of scientists that publish standards. Instructions for HOW to test items (methods) and STANDARDS for compliance (specifications). ASTM does NOT test products.
- Meets ASTM D5338 – IRRELEVANT. This is a frequently cited claim that sounds important, but is really misleading. D5338 is a test METHOD – a recipe on how to conduct a test. It does not tell you if the product will completely and safely biodegrade in a professionally managed aerobic composting center. (You can read more about D5338 here on the ASTM website.
- Meets ASTM D6400 (or D6868) – YES! If you see this, you know the manufacturer tested the product to a very stringent standard.
- Certified by BPI/Vinçotte/”OK Compost”/DIN Certco – Good – These are third party product certification companies that review evidence of testing to ASTM D6400 or D6868 to verify that 1) the tests were conducted correctly and 2) the data supplied to the testing company was accurate.
- Made from PLA/PBS/PBT, et. al – Maybe. PLA or Polylactic acid is a well documented biodegradable plastic. So, too, is PBS (Polybutylene succinate) and PBT (Polybutylene adipate terephthalate). Theses resins are a very small subset of thermoplastics. They biodegrade safely and completely in professionally managed composting facilities. However, simply saying a product “contains” PLA/PBS/PBAT is not really enough unless you verify that claim with a test (like ASTM D6400 or D6868). And then verify the test result with 3rd party certifications!