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USCC Response to Oregon Composters
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USCC Supports the Right of all Composters to Choose what they Accept, the Use of Compostables for Food Waste Recycling, and Development of More Robust Systems to Keep Out and Remove Contamination

The US Composting Council is a trade association comprised of members from every region of the country, composting dozens of different feedstocks through a variety of composting technologies, along with members of affiliated professions like equipment vendors, consultants, regulators, and compostable product manufacturers. The USCC is feedstock “agnostic”, meaning we support composting at every level and with any useful feedstock, using a variety of technologies. We support every composter’s right to choose which feedstocks to receive and process. The USCC promotes the advancement and growth of the composting industry, which includes efforts to divert and recover more feedstocks from the waste stream, such as wasted food.

Our membership includes companies that manufacture and certify compostable packaging, businesses and municipalities that collect food scraps with compostable packaging, and composting facilities that are successfully converting these materials into high quality composts that are used to improve the health of soils and growth of plants. We support those efforts, just as we support composting facilities that have decided not to accept compostable packaging. We encourage all USCC members to have a constructive dialogue with their local and state stakeholders to advance the industry as a whole.

In early March 2019 a group of composters serving Oregon published a message called “Why We Don’t Want Compostable Packaging and Serviceware”. The intended recipients of this message were the Oregon haulers and “upstream” customers who have been using compostables to segregate compostable wastes and send them to get composted at the facilities listed in the message. However, in today’s information age the message rapidly went national and has been used out-of-context to question the wisdom of using compostables anywhere.

In response to this statement, the US Composting Council (USCC) would like to make the following observations:

  1. Although the message is directed at compostable products, the primary issue raised is about non-compostable plastic contamination. This is understandable, since once a collection program decides to include compostable bags, utensils and other serviceware, the certified compostable materials will disintegrate and degrade to become part of the compost mass, but their non-compostable counterparts will remain. (It is extremely difficult to prevent the non-compostable versions from getting collected without careful program design, and diligent education and execution.) In the right system, these remaining plastics and other contaminants often reduce the value of the compost or restrict the uses of the compost, creating difficulties in marketing that compost.
  2. Composting and the use of compost provide valuable environmental benefits, but not without costs. The USCC believes it should be a business decision about whether or not to accept any specific feedstock. Feedstocks that cost more to process should command a higher tip fee.
  3. The challenges that composters face in accepting compostable packaging are real. We anticipate that they are solvable and in many cases USCC and our members are actively working on solutions. But certainly not every facility can or should accept compostable products. There is some evidence that the use of compostable products can significantly increase capture and recycling of wasted food, at least in commercial settings, though more work needs to be completed. (See (1) GreenBlue, (2) Natureworks, (3) BioCycle references below.) 
  4. That compostable products are prohibited in certified organic agriculture, even as a compost feedstock, is also a very real issue. We support the efforts of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) to change that position. In the meantime, composters who want to serve the certified organic market or earn Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) approval must either not accept compostable products or segregate their piles into organic-approved and non-approved systems.

The recycling of elements is a key attribute of a sustainable system. Composting is a core technology that accomplishes this. We need composting at every level, from residential, to communal, institutional, agricultural, municipal and commercial. What works at one level or situation may not work in another. We need to work together to reduce barriers to growth and expand composting at all these levels. While some Oregon compost manufacturers face unique challenges that lead them to a “food only” policy in the near term, we believe that over the long haul we can work together across the “value chain” to develop creative solutions to every obstacle limiting the growth of our industry.

  1. GreenBlue Study: The Value of Compostable Packaging
  2. Compostable Products and Postconsumer Food Scraps - BioCycle Aug 2016
  3. NatureWorks UW Study FINAL(rev) 04172018
  4. Oregon DEQ Study

The US Composting Council Board of Directors approved this position statement April 22, 2019. It was edited to correct grammatical errors on May 2, 2019

 

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