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Defining biodegradable and compostable (sidebar)

Confusion and misconceptions about what biodegradable and compostable mean have been replaced the past few years by scientific testing and standards of identity.

Approved by the Biodegradable Products Institute Biota bottles are commercially compostable meaning they disintegrate in 75-80 days under the proper conditions that provide high heat (120° to 140°F) microorganisms and moisture. The bottles will decompose into water carbon dioxide and organic material. These bottles will not degrade quickly in a backyard compost operation as those are not maintained at the high temperatures as commercial composting operations. Estimates are that it would take 1 years or more for a conventional petroleum-based PET beverage bottle to break down.

At the BPI Web site Biota bottles are listed as “approved products- foodservice items” apparently as a best-fit category for the breakthrough innovation. To meet BPI standards approved products must meet stringent scientifically based specifications specifically ASTM D6400-99 or ASTM D6868-03.

According to the site “The test methods and specifications found in ASTM D6400-99 mimic what takes place in well-run municipal or commercial composting facilities. These tests were developed after eight years of intensive work conducted at the request of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).” The work identified two key criteria for materials and products to be compostable:

• They must biodegrade at a rate comparable to yard trimmings food scraps and other compostable materials such as kraft paper bags.

• They must disintegrate so that no large plastic fragments remain to be screened out.

See the story that goes with this sidebar: BIOTA’s high-water mark in sustainable packaging

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