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Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilot Launched

Led by the Composting Consortium, the pilot will generate data to help shape international standards for field testing compostable packaging and contribute to the launch of an open-source results database.

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The Composting Consortium, a collaboration of industry partners managed by Closed Loop Partners, has announced the launch of its Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilot. According to the consortium, the initiative is the most comprehensive collaborative study of real-world compostable packaging disintegration in the U.S. to date. It adds that the project marks a milestone for the group, as it aims to improve available data on how certified, food-contact compostable foodware and packaging is currently breaking down at various types of composting facilities.

Participating facilities include Ag Choice, Atlas Organics, Black Earth Compost, The Foodbank, Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting, Napa Recycling, Specialized Environmental Technologies, Inc.’s Empire, Minn., facility, Veteran Compost, and Windham Solid Waste Management.  

Working with these industrial composting facilities across the U.S., the pilot will evaluate the disintegration of more than 30 types of certified compostable products and packaging––including compostable cutlery, molded fiber bowls, bioplastic cups, and snack packaging––across facilities operating with varying climates, composting methods, and equipment. Data gathered from the assessment will inform the consortium’s broader work to align the rapid growth of compostable packaging with on-the-ground operational and business needs of industrial composters.

The development of the pilot was informed by the expertise of the consortium’s partners, including the US Composting Council (USCC) and the Compost Research and Education Foundation (CREF), as well as the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), BioCycle, Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), and consumer and packaging brand companies. These key stakeholders contributed technical knowledge to ensure that the pilot’s objectives, methodology, and data align with the operational realities of composting facilities, as well as support circular and economically viable outcomes for composters.

   Read how Frito-Lay developed an industrially compostable bag for its Off The Eaten Path snack brand.

Data collected from this pilot will be donated to the Compostable Field Testing Program (CFTP), a non-profit international research platform that facilitates field testing across North America. The CFTP is designed to develop comprehensive baseline data that correlates composting conditions with the disintegration of common compostable products and packaging. The consortium’s donation of this data will accelerate the open-source publication timeline for the CFTP’s data set.

Additionally, the degradation pilot will serve as a trial for the first, and still-developing, in-field standard for assessing disintegration of compostable items at compost facilities, under development within ASTM International. Results from this pilot will help to enhance and accelerate the final ASTM field test standard through ASTM Committee WK80528 for both mesh bag and bulk dose test methods. CFTP is supporting the pilot by providing its methodology, composter training, and operations. RRS, a sustainability and recycling consulting firm, will administer the on-site data collection and lead the data analysis and reporting. 

“The CFTP was collaboratively launched in 2016, knowing that our industry needed more open, available data about the correlations between composting conditions and the disintegration of common compostable products,” says Diane Hazard, executive director of the Compost Research and Education Foundation, a founding partner of the CFTP. “The foundation is excited to be part of this important work. By donating data to the CFTP, Closed Loop Partners and its Composting Consortium help enable our organization to launch an open-source database on compostable packaging degradation results.”  

   Learn about Wonky Bread’s compostable, bio-based bag for bread shipments.

According to the consortium, the EPA estimates that around 4% of food waste is composted in the U.S., and as the composting landscape in the U.S. evolves, new materials are flowing through the organics stream. With these changes comes increasing pressure to successfully recover and process food scraps and food-contact compostable packaging. Many cities across the country are setting ambitious zero-waste goals and, in some cases, mandating organics diversion. Amidst these efforts, the compostable packaging market is poised to grow 17% annually between 2020 and 2027, adding complexity to the challenge. With lookalike and imposter materials contaminating composting and recycling facilities, the consortium notes that composters face challenges in efficiently processing inputs and maximizing valuable outputs. 

“Systems change starts with understanding what is true in a supply chain today and partnering with stakeholders to create the future we want to see,” says Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We are grateful for our partnerships with industry leaders and compost facility operators as we identify a path forward to increased diversion of valuable resources from landfill while driving value for compost manufacturers.”

“Leading the way in innovation and technology is what we do at Atlas Organics,” says Jorge Montezuma, director of engineering for Atlas. “Our joint team of operations and engineering will provide insights that will guide the compostable packaging industry forward for decades to come.”

Says the consortium, the Degradation Pilot is a critical step in its broader work to identify best practices in areas including consumer understanding of compostable packaging labeling and collection, sortation and sensing technologies, and policy. The consortium will continue its collaborative work to build a roadmap for catalytic capital inputs that can support composting infrastructure in the U.S., find ways to increase the amount of food waste diverted from landfills, and determine where compostable food packaging could add value to the system.

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