Biodegradable / Compostable

compost cycle of a food containerHow can you tell if an item of food packaging is biodegradable or compostable? The only sure fire way is to ask the manufacturer for a third party certification document. This certification should not be one generated by the company itself. It should be from an accredited third party laboratory. If you do get the certificate stating that the packaging is biodegradable or compostable, be sure to read it closely. Some companies will try to fool consumers by providing certificates for certain ingredients of their packaging and not the package as a whole. You should also read the fine print. When making biodegradable claims, some companies will note in the fine print that only under certain environmental conditions will any biodegradation occur and it could take as long as 5 years for this to occur. While 5 years is certainly better than 5,000 years, this is not the environmentally friendly solution we should be striving for. The Federal Trade Commission states that to list items as biodegradable, the item must break down in a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. The American Chemistry Council performed a study and determined that most consumers feel the time frame for biodegradation should be 1 year or less to make those claims. The take away here is to do the research to fully understand what is exactly going to happen to the product upon disposal.

When it comes to compostable claims, the rules are very clear. An item must meet one of two ASTM tests: ASTM D6400 or ASTM D6868. This is where that third party certification comes into play. Insist your food packaging provider have a third party certification. This way you know for sure it has been tested by a company other than the one manufacturing or selling the item. All of our Harvest Fiber items are compostable. Please keep in mind that these compostable claims only apply to professionally managed composting facilities and not your backyard compost pile. To find a composter near you, just visit If you happen to throw an item that is sold as compostable into your backyard compost bin, it may take a very long time for the composting process to occur. A professionally managed facility very closely controls the heat and moisture level of the material which aids and accelerates the process.

We often get asked if compostable products will biodegrade in a landfill. The answer is, not within the time frame most people think of when they consider biodegradable items. In fact, very little biodegradation occurs in most modern landfills. The reason for that is, they are built to keep air and moisture out. These are two factors for biodegradation to occur. To quote Dr. William Rathje’s book entitled Rubbish, he sites that “The truth is, however, that the dynamics of a modern landfill are very nearly the opposite of what most people think…Well designed and managed landfills seem to be far more apt to preserve their contents for posterity than transform them into humus or mulch. They are not vast composters: rather they are vast mummifiers.”

The rules for stating items are compostable are certainly tightening up, but it is really up to the consumer to do their homework. Just because an item is made, or claimed to be made from organic or natural raw materials, does not mean it will biodegrade or compost. Insist on that third party certification as the only real means of qualification.

This entry was posted on and is filed under Environment