Compostable and biodegradable plastics are becoming more and more popular, with dozens of brands of these “green” products lining store shelves. Although these products are marketed as being able to break down in compost piles quickly and efficiently, that isn’t always true.

The bioplastics industry does not have the same consistency or standards in labeling that the recycling industry does, and that can make it hard for both consumers and compost operators to decipher whether a product is truly compostable or not. Without a clear, defined, universal label for compostable products, the system has yet to run without error and bioplastics continue end up in landfills and plastics are going to end up in compost piles.

A photograph of plastics found within a tote at LRSWMD facilities. Can you spot the different plastics?

 At the LRSWMD drop-off sites, compostable products are only accepted on a special case by case basis and for contracted customers only. Compostable plastics are not accepted in our residential drop-off program and therefore, is not permitted in food scrap totes at drop-off locations.

Compostable and bioplastics can act as “gateway” plastics, and some customers may start to add in non-compostable plastics such as green plastic produce bags or other plastic bags thinking that they will break down in our compost piles – even though they will not. Not only can adding these plastics effect the compost piles, but the operators also have to spend extensive time opening up compostable plastics bags in order to search for contamination. Often there is contamination found within closed bioplastic bags that are dropped off in totes.

In order to keep plastics out of your compost, we encourage residents to substitute plastics not for bioplastics, but for other options instead. For example, you can line your food scrap bucket with newspaper or a paper bag instead of a plastic bag and empty the bag and all into the food scrap totes! Metal cutlery can also be utilized instead of compostable cutlery. The plastic crisis will not be solved by substituting plastic for another type of plastic, but by reducing dependency on plastic all together!

However, if you are a home composter, it can be a fun experiment for you to add bioplastics to your own pile and track how well they break down. Most often, these products are designed to be composted at a commercial facility with high temperatures, good recipe balance and a lot of TLC! It may happen, but bioplastics may take a good while to break down in a home pile.

Help us to reduce dependency on plastics and contamination in our compost piles, and opt out of using bioplastics if you utilize our facilities!