Next month, BPI will begin its 21styear certifying compostable products and packaging in North America. The certification has always been based on ASTM standards for compostability, and all certified products are verified by a third-party entity (today that entity is DIN CERTCO) to ensure those standards are being met. Once products pass that third-party verification, their manufacturers may use the BPI Compostable Logo on the product, its packaging, and in marketing materials and other communications.
This process has served the industry well for more than 20 years and provided composters with valuable information about how a given product might perform in a real world compost environment. It is, however, a process that uses laboratory environments as proxies for those real world compost environments, and that is something not every composter is totally comfortable with. For some composters, the only way to know for sure that a given certified compostable product or piece of packaging will work in their facility is to test it themselves, but many composters lack the time and other resources required to manage testing programs like this on their own.
In January of 2018, the Composting Council Research and Education Foundation (CCREF) announced in the BioCycle article, "Open Source Field Testing for Certified Compostable Packaging", the establishment of the International Field Testing Program or IFTP. As stated in the article. “Compost manufacturers receive the tools and methods to test certified products on site. Their results are then anonymously posted in the testing program’s database for others to learn from. In short, they have the ability to answer their own questions about how specific materials may work in their operations, and at the same time contribute to a larger, broader understanding throughout the industry.” Composters or other researchers interested in participating in this project can start the process here.
All products must be certified by either BPI or the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ) in Canada to be accepted in the study, so field testing is in no way trying to replace the traditional laboratory tests that BPI employs in its certification. Field testing is an extra layer of confidence for a composter that a given product will break down in their facility, and can be generalized to some extent based on the type of process a composter is using.
This can be seen in the approach taken by the newly formed Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA). CMA offers field testing of products in the most commonly used composting processes such as Manually Turned Aerated Static Pile, Mechanically Aerated Static Pile, Covered in-vessel + Aerated Static Pile, and Open Windrow.
The addition of field testing data to the existing certification programs offered by BPI and others will hopefully add another layer of confidence as composters decide whether or not to accept certified compostable products and packaging into their operations. Studies have shown that accepting products and packaging is key to getting at the food scraps portion of the waste stream. Increases in the diversion of food scraps and other organic waste streams are essential if we hope to make meaningful progress on the road to zero waste.