By: Susan Thoman
The Compost Manufacturing Alliance was formed to address emerging food service ware feedstocks that more cities are asking their compost facilities to incorporate into organics collection programs. Why? A recent article from GreenBlue addresses the increase in food scrap diversion when employing compostables in public venues. These public venues provide excellent opportunities to make an imprint on a large base of residents, offering vast opportunities to change norms across the community by showing its residents, on a mass scale, what is possible. Yet, without care and collaboration, asking composters to take items that may not be suited for their programs or facilities can become a burdensome, daunting and crippling task.
History is the best predictor of the future, and recent developments in China’s SWORD policies are worthy of brief notation in relationship to composting programs. The introduction of automated collection for curbside and commercial solid waste streams has created a more cost-effective and safer system across the U.S. in the last ten years. Yet, with the disconnect of the collection driver from what is in the bin, and the constant collection of potentially unfit items for recycling and organic streams, there has been limited feedback to curtail sorting errors. In addition, the chasing arrows on plastics have been interpreted to mean an item is recyclable, when it was originally developed to indicate the resin type used to make the product, not to demark an item’s recyclability.
Because of the emerging limitations on exports of plastics to China, it is expected that more and more compostable food service options will be introduced as viable alternatives to paper and plastics commodity streams. In that scenario, there must be a better plan for the supply chain and composters to work directly on a collective system designed to accomplish more food waste into compost streams with limited contamination.
Organics processing programs offer incredible opportunities for creating one of the most ideal sustainability models. Food scraps and yard trimmings are collected locally, materials are processed within the community, and compost and healthy soils are returned to the local environment. Compost sequesters carbon in the soil, filters impurities, and replenishes urban soils with the appropriate nutrients and biology needed to sustain healthy vegetation.
However, compost facilities are not like MRFs. In most cases, what a composter receives goes right onto a staging area, and right into the production of products, with very little sorting. And when it comes to food service ware, compostable products can be a challenge to process, with many composters, understandably, simply giving up on trying. Products cannot be easily distinguished as compostable, and many compostable items often do not break down adequately within current processing technologies.
This is the landscape ahead, and the Compost Manufacturing Alliance is working to provide the appropriate platform to begin engaging the manufacturers of compostable products with the manufacturers of compost on a national basis. We look forward to creating one successful system between food service ware innovators, large venues procuring products for the best fit within the system, municipalities beginning the process of developing organics diversion programs, and the valued compost facility owners who have invested heavily in pioneering a vital industry for our sustainable future.