- Labeling Legislation for Compostable Products
Labeling Legislation for Compostable Products
Compost contamination is costly to deal with and dangerous to the environment
Compostable packaging has advanced to the point where it performs and looks just like its non-compostable counterpart - this can make it challenging to differentiate one from the other. Without oversight, vague sustainability claims mean that it can be difficult for both individual consumers and the composting industry to identify compostable products.
The lack of clarity and standards for compostable packaging causes problems for consumers who may not be sure how to dispose of their product or packaging.
Without proper legislation oversight and identification methods, composters and haulers may have difficulty differentiating between compostable and any non-compostable products that may end up in the composting stream.
Strict labeling compliance is needed in order to increase confidence in sustainable products, and help composters easily identify between compostable and non-compostable. Some cities and states have begun to enact legislation to this effect, and we hope more will follow.
How to Label Compostable Products and Packaging
Because much of the legislation around compostable product labeling is relatively new, brands may find it difficult to figure out how to comply.
“Even when a compostable product has been tested and certified, users of an improperly labeled product won't know what bin to put it in, and composters won't know whether or not it is a contaminant.”
Compostability claims can be printed directly and clearly on the product packaging, or compostable stickers can be used.
The Biodegradable Products Institute, the US Composting Council, and the Compost Manufacturing Alliance have guidelines that can help brands comply with laws, regulations, and sustainability guidelines.
Federal and State Compostable Product Labeling Legislation
Federal Trade Commission: Green Guides
Established in 1992, Last Updated in 2012
The FTC Green Guides are not official legislation but provide a good framework for how brands and marketing should qualify their sustainability claims.
"Marketers who claim a product is compostable need competent and reliable scientific evidence that all materials in the product or package will break down into — or become part of — usable compost safely and in about the same time as the materials with which it is composted.”
- Compostability Claims, FTC Green Guides
Law effective January 1, 2013
California law prohibits the use of vague sustainability claims such as Biodegradable, Degradable, and Decomposable on all plastic products. Products labeled compostable must adhere to applicable standards:
“ASTM D6400 for Compostable Plastics; ASTM D7081 for Non-Floating Biodegradable Plastics in the Marine Environment; ASTM D6868 for Biodegradable Plastics Used as Coatings on Paper and Other Compostable Substrates.”
Effective October 1, 2018
Similar to California Legislation, Maryland prohibits the use of the terms Biodegradable, Degradable, and Decomposable in plastic product labeling. Products labeled as compostable must adhere to specific standards:
“For a plastic product labeled as compostable, the plastic product shall meet:
1. The ASTM D6400 standard specification; or
2. The ASTM D6868 standard specification; and
any applicable labeling guidelines in the federal guides for the use of environmental marketing claims.”
The law also indicates that compostable products must be labeled in a manner that makes them readily and easily identifiable from other such non-compostable products.
Effective January, 2010
Minnesota law prohibits the use of the terms Biodegradable, Degradable, and Decomposable specifically in the case of labeling plastic bags. Bags labeled as compostable must also adhere to specific standards:
“A manufacturer, distributor, or wholesaler may not offer for sale in this state a plastic bag labeled "compostable" unless, at the time of sale, the bag meets the ASTM Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics (D6400). Each bag must be labeled to reflect that it meets the standard.”
Effective July 1, 2020
Washington State not only requires all products marketed as compostable to meet ASTM standards but also requires compostability claims to be "readily and easily identifiable". This includes a third-party certification logo, specifically identifying a product as compostable, and use of green or brown labeling to indicate compostability.
“[…]it is the intent of the legislature to authorize the state's attorney general and local governments to pursue false or misleading environmental claims and "greenwashing" for plastic products claiming to be "compostable" or "biodegradable" when in fact they are not.”
Making compostable products and packaging easily identifiable is crucial for the creation of a sustainable circular economy. We fully expect other states to follow the example set by Washington State, and enact similar legislation that will aid both consumers and the composting industry.