NEW YORK, NY: September 12, 2023 – The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), the leading authority on compostable products and packaging in North America, filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today to update a decades-old definition of compost in the National Organic Program (NOP). BPI, as a non-profit organization, submitted the petition at the request of its member organizations who include commercial composters, municipalities, and compostable product manufacturers.
While the update is simple -- a federal definition of compost feedstock that matches state definitions -- the impact will be huge, helping the USDA and the NOP advance goals of “climate-smart” agriculture and encouraging states to achieve waste diversion goals. Food scraps are the number one material ending up in landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), generating the potent greenhouse gas methane.
States like California and Washington have set goals for diverting food scraps from landfills to reduce these emissions and requiring single-use packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable. In contrast, the NOP definition of compost, written almost 25 years ago, views composting as primarily an on-farm activity. The world has changed. There are now thousands of commercial-scale composting operations diverting yard trimmings across the U.S., several hundred of which also compost food scraps and food-soiled packaging.
“We are seeking to clarify the existing rules on what is considered a compost feedstock,” says Rhodes Yepsen, Executive Director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), which filed the petition. “One of the biggest stumbling blocks the U.S. faces in transitioning to the circular economy is the federal definition of compost and it conflicts with efforts in states like California to divert food scraps and associated food-soiled packaging. We are requesting USDA recognize the globally accepted scientific standards for compostability set by ASTM that are already adopted in several of our states.”
“Composting is a controlled biological process, converting materials that others see as waste into a valuable soil amendment,” notes Frank Franciosi, Executive Director of the U.S. Composting Council (USCC), which represents more than 900 organizations nationally. “If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and return nutrients to the soil for regenerative agriculture, then we need specific scientific definitions of the composting process, compost feedstocks, and finished compost product that align with states that are leading the way.”
The composting facility at Napa Recycling in northern California has gone through major upgrades recently to better handle the increased volume of food scraps and compostable packaging being diverted due to California’s mandates. “We tell households and businesses to look for the BPI certification as the benchmark for what packaging we’ll accept with food scraps,” says Tim Dewey-Mattia, Recycling and Public Education Manager for Napa Recycling. “However, today we are required to keep those materials separate from our compost that’s approved for use in organic agriculture, complicating our efforts and driving up costs. It would be incredibly beneficial for composters like Napa Recycling if the federal regulation were changed to allow these materials to stay together.”
Companies selling certified Organic food also see this as a necessary change, such as Amy’s Kitchen, headquartered in northern California. We take pride in cooking ready-to-eat foods made from the highest-quality, organic ingredients,” says Renaud des Rosiers, Director of Sustainability for Amy’s, who serves on the Board of Directors at BPI. “Our commitment to the principles of organic and circularity drive us to eliminate the use of conventional fossil plastic packaging in a way that preserves the integrity of both our products and the environment. We believe that by creating intentional, robust standards that align state and federal regulations with ASTM D6400, which has been successfully used for decades to certify compostable products, we can grow the circular bioeconomy, reduce the use of conventional plastics, and keep food out of the landfill while minimizing confusion from misaligned regulatory requirements.”
“The city of Seattle has mandatory composting for households and businesses, as well as takeout ordinances that require packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, all with the aim of achieving zero waste,” adds Kate Kurtz with Seattle Public Utilities. “Compostable products like food scraps bags help residents collect their food scraps, so rules that limit composters from taking these materials create barriers for food scrap collection programs.”
The U.S. lags behind many parts of the world in adopting circular economy practices, and improving the compost rule is one way we can begin to align with state laws and leverage compostable packaging and closed-loop systems. To learn more about BPI’s advocacy work to expand compostable infrastructure, visit https://bpiworld.org/advocacy.
The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is North America’s leading authority on compostable products and packaging. The organization is science-driven, and supports a shift to the circular economy by promoting the production, use, and appropriate end of lives for materials and products that are designed to fully biodegrade in specific biologically active environments. BPI’s certification program operates in conjunction with education and advocacy efforts designed to support the broader effort to keep food scraps and other organics out of landfills. To learn more about BPI, please visit www.bpiworld.org