Composting has many benefits—reduces waste, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, creates jobs—but at the end of the day, it’s really about one thing: soil. And if you think about it, our future is really about that same thing, our soil. Without healthy soils, we can’t grow the food we need to survive, and countless other organisms depend on it too.
But what does soil have to do with packaging?
Everything we compost is used to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment to improve our soil. Any compostable packaging or product should be part of this cycle of creating productive soil. If it's not helping the process, at least it shouldn't be hurting our soils. But what about packaging and products that contain plastic coating that don't break down during the composting process--what kind of effect are they having? Learn more about our research showing how plastic coatings break down into micro-plastic pieces but don't "go away."
Why what we don't know can hurt us
The truth is there's not enough research one way or the other to know what effects small pieces of plastic are having on our soils and the micro-organisms that live there. But there is enough evidence to suspect that it's not good.
We're already seeing the detrimental effects tiny plastic particles are having in our oceans, and that the scale of the problem makes it incredibly hard to find efffective solutions.
We don't want to wait until there's a giant garbage patch from accumulated plastic fragments in our soils. We need healthy soils to survive, and we can't take any risks with an ecosystem that supports our very existence.
Act now and prevent plastic pollution
What we can do right now is protect our soils from plastic pollution by keeping plastic-coated products and packaging out of your compost bins and compost programs. You can make sure to buy and compost only products and packaging that are certified compostable. This is our chance to stop plastic pollution before it starts, and we've put together a few simple steps to help you do your part:
Four step guide to preventing plastic pollution
Step 1: Choose reusable, durable products first!
We'd love to say this should be the only step and you could always find a product that isn't disposable--yes, even compostable items are still disposable--but we know that's not always the case. So after you do your best to try to avoid disposable products, follow these steps to make sure the disposables you are buying aren't leaving behind plastic pollution.
There’s only one sure-fire way to tell if your product/packaging is made to be composted and safe for our soils: look for this label! The BPI label represents a scientific testing process that ensures these products will safely break down in a commercial composting facility.
Go to the BPI website to check on a specific product or company to see if their products are truly compostable. You can use this guide to some of the different compostable products and choices available to help make your decisions.
Because we see so many misleading claims on products and packaging, we went out and gathered all the so-called compostable packaging in our community and put it to the test. Watch the slideshow to find out, Is it Compostable??
Step 3: Say ok to #7 PLA compostable
PLA was the first type of compostable bioplastic and still rules the market today. If your product or packaging says #7 PLA compostable, you’re in the clear. PLA stands for poly-lactic acid and means your plastic is made from corn and not from petroleum.
Step 4: Put in the plain ol’ paper
Napkins, tissues, paper towels and scraps of paper are all safe to compost because they’re just plain ol’ paper with no added plastics. Commercial composting facilities can safely “cook” away the germs too so don’t worry, you won’t be spreading your cold around in the soil.
But don’t be fooled by those coffee cups, take-out boxes, milk or juice cartons and paper plates—they’re often hiding under a layer of plastic and shouldn’t be composted unless certified compostable.
Newspaper, cardboard, mail, printer paper and magazines still belong in your recycling bin where they can be recycled into new paper.
Ugh, why does it have to be confusing! What can I do?
You have a powerful voice as a consumer! Tell these companies our soil is too important to the future of our planet to risk contaminating it with plastics, and that you want to see their product/packaging made to be certified compostable! And choose to buy only certified compostable products so your dollars speak for your values!