I've read a lot of blog posts about corn cups, compostable forks, and almost every type of biodegradable food packaging. By far, the number 1 complaint that folks have regarding these items is that they "don't compost in my backyard compost pile."
For a compostable product to be certified 100% compostable it must meet the standards of either ASTM D-6400, ASTM D-6868, or EN13432. It can then also be certified by a 3rd party like the Biodegradable Products Institute. All this however only guarantees that the product will be compostable in a commercial composting facility.
I’ve found that many of the folks who purchase or use compostable packaging are particularly excited about the prospect of composting it. Unfortunately, they often find that when placed in a backyard composting pile these items don’t actually breakdown (or at least not within a few months). The main reason this happens is because backyard compost piles have low and inconsistent heat levels (typically only 2 - 3 degrees above the ambient temperature). Commercial composting piles however reach higher heat levels (typically 55 - 60 degress C) and this type of heat is required to break down some forms of compostable packaging (this is particularly true of PLA or polylactic acid packaging like clear corn cups).
Additionally, there are a limited number of commercial composting facilities across the country accepting compostable food packaging (less than 8% of the 3,400 facilities in the US). This poses a problem, as both consumers and businesses are using this packaging, but do not have access to a facility in which the items will actually compost.
This is why I believe we need a "backyard composting" certification.
OK Compost (the Belgian certification program run by Vincotte) has a backyard composting certification known as OK Compost Home. First introduced in 2003, OK Compost Home certifies products that will compost at lower temperatures, so that they will breakdown in a backyard compost pile. They have a list of certified products available and the OK Compost Home logo is also used on product packaging so that consumers know they can purchase an item and compost it at home. The issue for the US however is that the OK Compost certification is based largely in Europe.
We either need to bring OK Compost Home to the US or we need the Biodegradable Products Institute (the leading certifier in the US) to develop a similar certification.
If we can do that, we'll be able to offer US citizens and businesses a real solution for composting their compostable packaging... while we work on getting more than just 8% of our commercial composting facilities to accept compostable packaging .
Dinesh Thirupuvanam runs an Eco Buying Group for small businesses called the Viv Biz Club. Viv helps businesses pool their purchasing power to save up to 80% on sustainable products, including compostable food packaging supplies, corn cups, and recycled office supplies.