Register for the upcoming brainstorm session HERE
Co-organized by the IFSC and Chicago Sustainability Task Force, this forum brought together stakeholders from all stages of the compostable plastics lifecycle to discuss the current state of the industry, best practices, and how to handle an anticipated increase in compostable plastics at compost facilities while maintaining high standards in finished compost products.
Nora Goldstein from BioCycle opened the discussion and set the tone by laying out the problem with plastics contamination and look-alikes making their way into the compost stream. These materials pose a challenge to compost facilities that want to accept food scraps because they do not break down adding extra costs to filter out and hurting their end product if they make it through the screening process. Despite the challenges with contamination, these composters see accepting food scraps as a way to grow their business and meet a growing demand to provide a food scrap solution alternative to landfills.
Stephanie Katsaros, IFSC Board member and President of Bright Beat, led the discussion and challenged each speaker to suggest a solution. Ideas ranged from developing a technology accelerator that sorts compostable plastics at the point of disposal, setting baseline standards that both manufacturers and composters agree to, creating a group that maintains ongoing discussion on standards, improved labeling on compostable plastics, establishing agreements between generators and facilities to control the feedstock stream, and better education for generators.
Compost processors that accept food waste have been dealing with contamination since they’ve been in business, it’s part of what they have had to come to accept as unavoidable and they don’t expect that to end any time soon. For them, they would like to see less contamination coming in, but they have very little time to deal with the issue further upstream. They focus on turning away contaminated feedstock as it comes to the facility and improving their equipment to filter contamination that does make it to their piles.
Compostable product manufacturers are competing against look-alike products sold under a false green banner at a cost that unfairly undercuts certified quality compost. Further complicating the issue is that verified compostable products vary in appearance, making it difficult to offer appearance-based guidance. With the growing diversity of food and beverage serviceware, it is a persistent struggle for sorters to separate true composable products from the “knock offs” before bringing it to a composter or adding it to the pile.
This issue is complex and continued collaboration is necessary as the movement against single-use plastics gains steam, nationally and globally. The way to move forward is together. The general public needs clear and simple messaging and national boards and legislatures need to see cohesion on standards before they will be convinced to act. We need to come together as a region and follow strategies that we know will work.
If you would like to take part in identifying tangible goals and next steps to resolve this issue, register HERE.