Note: The Review document was updated by the authors in May, 2021.
Benefits of compost must be incorporated into life cycle assessments of organics recycling and compostable products for an accurate understanding of environmental impacts.
In August of 2018, Oregon DEQ released a report titled, “The Significance of Environmental Attributes as Indicators of the Life Cycle Environmental Impacts of Packaging and Food Service Ware.” In their own words,
“DEQ was interested in understanding how successful common packaging attributes are at predicting reduced environmental outcomes. We wanted to understand where and when the relationship between attributes and the inferred environmental preference holds true and the scale of impact reduction.”
The study sought to test the assumption that there is a relationship between certain attributes attributed to packaging and food service ware and reduced environmental impacts. They looked at four attributes in this report – “Recycled Content”, “Biobased”, “Recyclable”, and “Compostable”. The report explains,
“Many people assume that these attributes convey reduced environmental impacts relative to other options without that same attribute. But, how well do these descriptors actually predict lower impacts across the entire packaging life cycle?”
In order to take on questions like these, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a commonly used tool. While LCA-based studies are perceived to be precise and objective exercises, they are only as accurate as their input data and assumptions. BPI Members with expertise in LCA methodology have reviewed the published report and the LCA studies it assessed, and found that for the “Compostable” attribute, several of the conclusions are based on flawed methodologies and outdated or misleading inputs. More importantly, the study fails to account for how compostable products are linked to value compost and the composting process and their impact on overall carbon emissions. Accounting for this impact is critically important for understanding the true environmental footprint of compostable materials.