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US Composting Council develops compostable product labelling guidelines for legislators

Two hands hold soil near food scraps
The USCC and BPI intend to distribute the principles and the model bill that will follow through webinars, meetings, and presentations to legislators. Pixabay

The US Composting Council (USCC) and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) have released a set of guiding principles to inform model legislation for labelling compostable products. The principles were developed after months of consensus-building by a task force composed of members from both organizations, including compostable product-makers, certifiers, municipal leaders, allied members of USCC, and compost manufacturers.

Task force members agreed that products should be labelled with distinguishing elements including tinting and striping and the use of certification logos, while non-compostable items should be prohibited from using identical labelling and misleading terminology. Additionally, all compostable items should be defined by required lab testing and are encouraged to consider field testing.

"The Compostable Labeling Task Force debated how best to communicate to policymakers the challenges involved in ensuring compostable products make it to compost manufacturers, are easily identifiable, and break down in compost facilities," said Frank Franciosi, executive director of the US Composting Council. "Having representative voices at the table ensured that the principles reflect the real-world conditions and the business choices facing compost manufacturers. We hope product manufacturers, brands and regulators will quickly and voluntarily adopt these principles."

While the few existing labelling bills include requirements for third-party certification and/or testing to current ASTM testing standards, additional principles include:

  • Limiting compostability claims to products that touch, contain, or carry food products, scraps, or other organic material accepted by compost manufacturers
  • Prohibiting misleading or unsubstantiated terms ("biodegradable," "degradable," "decomposable")
  • Recommending field testing to ensure compatible facility conditions
  • Requiring compostable products such as produce and food collection bags, and other food service ware to be labelled "compostable," carry a certification mark, and (product depending) distinguish themselves with green, brown, or beige colour, tint, or quarter-inch stripe
  • Prohibiting non-compostable food packaging and food service ware from using identical compostable colours, labelling or marks
  • Restricting degradation claims to specific, intended environments (i.e., compost, agricultural soil)
  • Exempting compostable products from using resin ID codes to reduce consumer confusion

"With interest in both composting and compostable products increasing across the United States, we are excited to partner with USCC on co-branded labelling principles that will guide policies to combat contamination from conventional packaging, and boost confidence in accepting certified compostable products," said Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of BPI. "Policies around compost infrastructure and compostable product labelling vary greatly from state to state, and consistent requirements are needed for both producers and receivers of compostable products to be successful."

"The concepts in these guidelines began in Washington State where we worked years ago to begin addressing this issue in legislation," said Susan Thoman, managing director of Compost Manufacturing Alliance, a task force member and a national field testing certification organization. "Having these adopted in a number of states, or nationally, would be a game-changer for compost manufacturers."

USCC and BPI intend to distribute the principles and the model bill that will follow through webinars, meetings, and presentations to legislators, legislative staff, regulators, and industry and environmental advocacy groups. Other advocates are welcome to use them as well. The principles are meant to inspire legislation that will create uniformity across states, or national legislation to standardize labelling.

The USCC says that, to date, compostable labelling laws that inspired and incorporate some of these principles have passed in Colorado, Minnesota, California, Washington State, and Maryland.

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