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California’s “Truthful Environmental Advertising in Plastics” Bill Awaiting Action

3p Contributor | Friday September 17th, 2010 | 8 Comments

Taterware cutlery that claims to be biodegradable, but does not biodegrade

Taterware cutlery that claims to be biodegradable, but does not biodegrade

By: Dinesh Thirupuvanam

When most people see that a product or package is marked “biodegradable” they think that they can toss the product on the side of a road or into a landfill and it’s going to breakdown in a reasonably short period of time.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Today, the term biodegegradable is not held to any technical or scientific definition. As a result, manufacturers of plastic products have been greenwashing with the term (e.g., Taterware) — claiming that their products are biodegradable when really aren’t… or they are, but they would take tens, hundreds, or thousands of years to actually biodegrade.

Taterware's claim

Taterware's claim

To date the use of the term has not been regulated by the government, but that’s about to change in the state of California, where Senate Bill 1454 is about to become law.

SB 1454 will require all products and packaging that want to use the term biodegradable to pass legitamate verifiable end-of-life tests known as ASTM standard specifications (specifically ASTM D6400 and D6868). These standards are already in use today to certify that products are compostable and that they will breakdown in a commercial composting environment within a 180 day period. If the bill is brought into law it will eliminate (for Californians at least) today’s confusing distinction that biodegradable and compostable do not mean the same thing.

SB 1454 is sponsored by Californians Against Waste and has the support of the key players in the industry (e.g., the Biodegradable Products Institute, City and County of San Francisco, the NRDC). The bill is opposed (as you’d guess) by one of the makers of greenwashing plastic trash bags known as Green Genius.

Here’s hoping the Governator puts pen to paper and (at least in California) we can do away with one form of greenwash.

Photo Credit: Fake Plastic Fish

Dinesh Thirupuvanam runs an eco buying cooperative called the Viv Biz Club that helps small businesses save up to 80% on compostable plates, food packaging, recycled office supplies, and more.


▼▼▼      8 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://externalize.wordpress.com Simon Dunne

    Even compostable cutlery doesn’t help much unless there are public composting bins in which to dispose them. A compostable fork in the garbage doesn’t have the right conditions to decompose. And since most people are using compostable cutlery when they’re out of the house (and away from their green bins if their community has them), most of this stuff just hits the garbage and sits in landfill like the rest of the trash.

    • http://vivbizclub.com dinesh

      Hey Simon – Thanks for the thoughts.

      I’d disagree slightly that just because people are away from their homes doesn’t mean they don’t have access to a composting bin. I’d say it depends on your geography. In San Francisco for instance, all restaurants are required to offer composting to their customers, so compostable cutlery can easily be tossed into that bin (and I also often see green composting bins on the streets where I’ll toss a compostable cup if I have one while I’m out).

      Other cities aren’t so composting friendly though, so this isn’t always the case.

      Eitherway, these supposed “biodegradable” items have been contaminating compost piles at facilities for quite some time, so I think this regulation will be really important in eliminating that contamination and establishing better standards and regulations that will encourage more cities and towns to adopt curbside composting programs and encourage the growth in the number of commericial composting facilities that accept food waste and compostable packaging.

  • http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com Nick Palmer

    If people must use disposable plastic cutlery then they should be easily capable of degrading to natural ingredients (and not just microscopic pieces of plastic)in a HOME composting environment. Requiring perfect commercial composting conditions is not an answer which will be sustainable.

  • http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com Nick Palmer

    Fantastic. Good article. Hadn’t heard of the OK compost home standard (even though I’m British). This, or a similar, standard has to spread before too many manufacturers invest in the “wrong” type of degradable plastic.

  • Trish

    We own a chain of restaurants, and use compostable cutlery for our restaurants. We buy from eco Greenwares and their pricing and quality is unbeatable. Check it out….http://www.ecogreenwares.com/biodegradable/compostable/cutlery-tableware-utensils-fork.html

  • Kyle

    “Biodegradability” sure is a hot-button topic these days. It is unfortunate that consumers are being duped into believing that “compostable” plastics are somehow good for the environment. Producers of Corn Plastic poison our earth, produce insane amounts of green-house gasses, and grow GMO crops that should be used for food, but alas, are inedible. The 180 day composting cycle time that these goods are required to meet is ridiculous in that no commercial composting facility has cycle times this long. Composters want to turn waste around extremely quickly, and unfortunately bio-plastics compost much slower than yard waste and food scraps. This bill, SB 1454, was sponsored by Californians Against Waste but was written with the help of BPI and Cargill…. sheesh, talk about special interests being involved. Why would Cargill sponsor this bill? Because they produce corn plastic. Way to go CAW, great to know that you’re looking out for the consumer and helping to line the pockets of an earth- friendly corporation like Cargill.

  • Steve Sheer

    Confusion has been created in the Bay Area concerning bio-plastic products and their disposal into the green waste compost bins. Currently Recology – Jepson Prairie Organics compost facility is an Organic Materials Research Institute certified facility (http://www.omri.org/simple-opl-search/results/jepson). OMRI certified compost facilities are not permitted to accept any type of bio-plastic products (http://www.omri.org/simple-gml-search/results/compost) into their compost stream.

    These bio-plastic products are being disposed of into green compost bins all through out the Bay Area. They are then transported to Jepson Prairie Organics sort facility, where all bio-plastic products are then removed to ensure Recology complies with OMRI product certification. The sorted bio-plastic products along with other non-compostable items are then transported again and disposed of in the landfill.

    SF Environments is the only government agency that I have been able to identify that both promote (http://www.mirelplastics.com/news/default.aspx?ID=1298) and requires (http://www.sfapproved.org/Cold-Cups/) the use of bio-plastic products. Even though these products are not accepted by Recology and violate their OMRI certification.

    Why does SF Environments endorse bio-plastic products that are not accepted by Recology – Jepson Prairie Organics?