Most Americans lack access to curbside compost bins, and few are provided at large venues, restaurants, and public spaces. Furthermore, many of the existing compost programs refuse compostable packaging, leading to unnecessary packaging and food waste. Without collection and processing, the system won’t work, which is why BPI is focused on transforming the infrastructure landscape.
Nearly a third of U.S. states have introduced or passed laws to create Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs for packaging. EPR programs require companies to pay fees towards the waste management of their products, including companies that make compostables. However, fees collected from compostable manufacturers have historically not funded compost collection or processing. That is, until 2022, when BPI successfully advocated for amendments in Colorado and California. With states and provinces continuing to pursue EPR laws, BPI will look to participate in early stakeholder conversations to ensure first drafts contain fair, compost-friendly language.
Two states—California and Washington—have passed recent statewide organic waste management collection mandates to avoid landfill methane. BPI supports mandates paired with financial support and clear permitting to composters can succeed, and sees an opportunity to encourage other states, and the federal government, to follow similar paths.
Congressional efforts to build green infrastructure through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, while laudable, have mostly ignored compost. While the BIL-directed SWIFR (Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling) program may offer support, which BPI advocated for, more federal funding is needed to transform compost infrastructure in the U.S. That’s why BPI helped write and introduce COMPOST Act in 2020.
Mitigating pollution—from GHGs to microplastics—has and will continue to motivate public policy decisions, though decision-makers have often missed opportunities to do so with compost. When communicating solutions, BPI will look to the extent to which compostables maximize food waste diversion and avoid landfill methane. In single-use food ware and food packaging formats, BPI will also look to illuminate how compostables can reduce microplastic pollution as alternatives to hard-to-recycle conventional alternatives that often persist in the environment.
Unfortunately, some laws intended to reduce pollution or increase recycled content in conventional plastic products have also targeted single-use compostables, often without recognizing their unique differences and benefits. BPI will continue to combat misguided policymaking in the U.S.
BPI already requires certified products to display specific text and artwork to combat contamination. Some U.S. states and Canada have begun to consider additional labelling requirements, while a few have already disallowed non-compostable products from using false biodegradability claims to greenwash consumers into thinking their products belong in a green bin.
Whether through amendments or standalone bills, interest in new legislation may provide BPI with opportunities to better distinguish compostable products from non-compostables to reduce contamination and increase consumer participation. Laws like HB1799 in Washington state have already begun to require coloring, tinting, and striping, requirements that other states may look to emulate or build upon.
To better understand what consumers respond to, BPI will continue to collaborate on research projects to back up policy ideas with data.
Earlier this year, BPI executive director Rhodes Yepsen testified in favor of the Act at the U.S. Senate before its passage by unanimous consent. The bill, which would create a much-needed nationwide reporting system for compost and recycling, now sits in the House. BPI will continue to support it until the bill becomes law.
Status: poised for reintroduction in 2023
As part of the US Composting Infrastructure Coalition (USCIC), BPI also helped write and introduce the COMPOST Act in both houses of Congress, designed to create a USDA-led funding program to expand compost collection and processing across the country.
Status: poised for reintroduction in 2023
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, aka the BIL, will fund an EPA grant program called SWIFR $275 million through 2026, mostly through state and local governments. At the request of BPI and others, the funds will support recycling and compost activities, including education, expanded collection, and processing. The EPA is currently accepting applications.
Among its many parts, the IRA directs funding the fight methane emissions from sources including agriculture and organic wastes. BPI recently submitted comments urging the USDA to include food and yard waste diversion in its calculus because they generate methane when landfilled. BPI also requested the department to maximize funding for compost application and technical assistance to farmers, knowing that compost can sequester carbon emissions and reduce the need for climate-polluting synthetic fertilizers. We await their decisions in 2023.
California has passed several bills in recent years to transform its compost industry, including:
In 2016, the state established a goal to reduce organic waste landfill disposal by 75% to reduce problematic short-term climate pollutants including methane from food waste.
In 2018, a law passed requiring disposable food packaging at state facilities and properties to be recyclable or compostable, including all bowls, cups, plates, containers, and trays. CalRecycle maintains a list of materials that comply with the law.
In 2021, the passage of AB 1201 created a requirement that compostable products must be certified by third-party organizations like BPI. The bill also prohibited the use of misleading terms like “biodegradable,” “degradable,” and “decomposable” on plastic products, like bills in Washington state and Maryland.
Earlier in 2022, after multiple years of deliberation and narrowly failed votes, the state passed SB 54, a comprehensive bill that will establish a statewide EPR program along with specific reduction, recyclability, and compostability targets for products and packaging. Following its recent passage, the bill will undergo rulemaking.
Most recently, Governor Newsom signed a bill that requires all pre-checkout (produce, bulk) bags sold to be certified compostable, if not reusable or recycled paper. Such bags must be tinted green, brown or beige, whole non-compostable alternatives are prohibited from doing the same.
In 2021, the Rocky Mountain state passed a law to phase out single-use plastic bags, polystyrene cups and containers, and reverse a law that prohibited municipalities from passing their own ordinances. In 2022, Colorado raised the bar again, passing the third EPR law in the country for products and packaging in 2022. The law also became the very first to explicitly support compost infrastructure and include representation from the compost industry (at the behest of BPI).
Connecticut became the first state in the nation to mandate commercial organics recycling. The law has been used as a template for legislation in other states. The state also passed a law in 2019 requiring that produce bags offered to consumers be certified by the BPI.
In 2021, Maine became the first state in the U.S. to pass an EPR law for products and packaging. However, the fees collected from companies making certified compostables won’t be spent towards compost infrastructure.
In 2017, Maryland became the third state—joining California and Washington—to prohibit the use of misleading terms like “biodegradable,” “degradable,” and “decomposable” on plastic products.
Like California, Maryland, and Washington, Minnesota prohibits the use of misleading terms like “biodegradable,” “degradable,” and “decomposable.” Unlike the other states, the law only applies to plastic bags. Minnesota has also introduced and may re-introduce a bill to establish EPR for products and packaging.
In 2020, New Jersey became the first state to require minimum recycled content standards for beverage containers and carry-out bags, regardless of material type (plastic, paper, metal, glass). Thankfully, certified compostable versions, designed to break down with organic waste instead of being traditionally recycled, were exempted from the requirements.
New Jersey, like many of its neighbors, also passed a law in 2021 to require commercial facilities to divert organic waste and introduced EPR legislation in early 2022. Regarding the latter, the state has been considering official comments, including those submitted by BPI.
The state of New York, as directed by its 2019 budget bill, requires large venues such as food manufacturers, retailers, hotels, stadiums, and wholesalers, arenas and stadiums to establish food waste collection or donation.
Shortly after Maine, Oregon became the second state in the U.S> to pass an EPR law for products and packaging. The law does not require producers to cover the full cost of their products’ waste management, nor does it direct any funds collected from producers towards compost infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Governor Inslee signed a sweeping bill to divert organic materials away from landfill disposal and towards food rescue programs and organics management facilities. The law will encourage increased compost collection and processing across the state and establish new labelling requirements for certified compostable packaging. By July 2024, compostable film bags must be tinted green, beige or brown and compostable foodservice packaging must follow similar coloring schemes or display a ¼" stripe of the same colors. Unfortunately, non-compostable products are not prohibited from using the exact same color and labelling schemes.
Full and Stakeholder Members are eligible to participate in BPI’s Legislative and Advocacy Committee, where policy activity is discussed on a monthly basis. BPI Members are also eligible to receive a monthly digest email that reviews all legislative activity that BPI is tracking. A link to that email is available in BPI’s Monthly Members Newsletter.
BPI offers an external bill tracking service for bills and regulations that could impact compostable products and composting infrastructure at the state and federal levels. BPI Members can access these reports, along with analysis of priority legislation, through a dashboard organized by key categories. The dashboard provides a quick snapshot of BPI's activities for bills, includes work being done by local and national partners, and contains links to comments submitted and draft bill language.
The Legislation & Advocacy Committee is in the process of developing Guiding Principles documents for each bill category to enable BPI to quickly develop public comments and collaborate with partner organizations, all while giving BPI Members a chance to shape the position.