In this Compostable series, Mallory McLeod, one of our BSI staff, informs about compostability certifications.
At BSI, we’ve been working towards building a comprehensive list of compostable certification institutions and composting facilities as part of a larger, ongoing research and development project. We know our loyal customers share our sustainable values and love our compostable products so our aim is to be as open and informative as possible when it comes to composting and certification.
In addition, we want to be your source for all sustainable related news when it comes to compostable products and the compostable industry. There is a lot of helpful information out there, but it can be hard to find and decipher. There is also a lot of misguided information being circulated and more than ever consumers, environmentalists, and businesses need to keep themselves informed and aware. Over the next few weeks in a series of blog posts we will outline the what, where, and why of compostable certifications in North America and Europe. We will start by focusing on four certification bodies that are leaders in the industry with proven track records. These institutions provide the most comprehensive testing and certification standards available in the compostable industry to date.
They are as follows:
- Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in conjunction with the US Compost Council
- Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ)
- European Bioplastics in conjuction with Din Certo
Why should compostable testing and certification be important to BSI and our customers?
Well, in the 1980s when “biodegradable plastics” hit the market manufacturers were able to make product performance claims without any corroborating scientifically based tests because the methods and standards did not exist (BPI). This caused consumer confusion and skepticism because these so-called “biodegradable plastics” did not biodegrade and perform as expected. Now there is more advanced technology that can create bioplastics that look and feel like existing products, yet have been engineered to completely and safely biodegrade and/or compost in composting facilities without leaving any residues. Through scientifically proven biodegradability specifications (called ASTM D6400 for films and ASTM D6868 for products) manufacturers can now make truthful and accurate claims about biodegradability and compostability.
Biodegradable and/or Compostable?
(Sourced from Canadian Compost Council, Compostability Standard and Certification Protocol, September 2011)
It is important to be aware that “compostable” and “biodegradable” are not equivalent terms. The key distinguishing features between the terms are time and end result. Biodegradation does not reference the amount of time needed for decomposition of materials or the type of physical and chemical quality attributes of the end products produced through the decomposition process. This means that materials can simply be broken down into smaller pieces of the original source. In contrast, the term compostable means that the materials are capable of undergoing biological decomposition, within a specific time period, that results in the materials being visually indistinguishable from finished compost, and being broken down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass. Currently the term “compostable” is not regulated by any jurisdiction in Canada; therefore certification is not required to use it. However, certification does provide a benefit. The purpose of voluntary certification is to garner consumer confidence by ensuring credible third-party verification of manufacturers’ compostability claims. Compostability certification provides a level of assurance that the specific product or packaging can indeed biologically degrade in accordance with the certifying bodies’ standards and not impact the compost quality produced.