I grew up in a large family, and for us, composting in our backyard was part of daily life. My mother was raised on seven acres, and the family lived off the land, grew their own food, and composted all the valuable twigs, leaves, food scraps and eggshells they accumulated. The compost went to mulch the garden, feed slow-release nutrients into the soil around my grandfather’s beautiful perennials, and was used to top dress the grass and trees every fall. Today, composting has grown from backyard piles and pea patches to being a critical component in executing solid waste and sustainable materials management programs for municipalities and businesses. As much as 40% of what we throw away consists of food scraps. With growing interest and proposed legislation to support increasing curbside collection and composting, who knew that our cottage borne practice and my mother’s reverence for being a good steward of the earth would lead to highly successful and sought after municipally driven composting programs?
Industrial compost manufacturing has come a long way in the last thirty years. Technologies have developed and changed, and compost manufacturers have worked tirelessly to take increasing volumes of materials as more cities and states look to composting as a desirable frontier to explore and expand to new categories of feedstocks. Most programs start with curbside yard waste collection, while many programs have or are expanding to include food scraps. When a compost manufacturer moves from strictly taking yard waste and incorporating food scraps, thismay involve their permits and employing new processes and technology. These new technologies often have a shorter processing cycle time than traditional and historical windrow systems, but the shortened process times can expand the volumes they can process, so the disintegration of those products can have a shorter cycle time than the standard, highly controlled ASTM lab tests. CMA exists to deal with those modern changes by providing a compostable certification that is based on BOTH lab and field standards, while also working with compost manufacturers on best practices for processing compostables.
With food scraps comes significant contamination, as plastics in and around food continues to increase. This comes in the form of compostable product “look a likes”, films and stickers on produce, “compostables” that are not certified and/or don’t break down in modern processes, and general errors in sorting at the bin. This has been a growing issue over time and must be addressed upstream for the sake of making room for new ideas on compostables in the future. There is much work to be done on this front, while CMA’s team members were active leaders and contributors to the Washington Organics Contamination Work Group (see report) and encourages more funding and engagement to address this through those that have the power to help tell the story- the supply chain leaders and end users making a difference by changing their models.
With growing initiatives emerging to curtail plastic pollution and waste to the landfill, composting is an attractive alternative for “end of life” scenarios for packaging. True circular economy models connect the maker and the receiver of the materials, and CMA is proud and humbled to have created a growing “manufacturer to manufacturer” space to come together and engage with the supply chain, providing candid and practical input on how our collective businesses can work successfully together to forge a new chapter in circular economy design andprogram execution around compostables.
CMA started this journey in 2017, and we have been fortunate to gain funding and support to explore compostables as feedstock, study how compostables can increase organics diversion from landfill, and promote the incredible work of our CMA members and affiliates. Compost manufacturing is a challenging business, and CMA is here to offer up the wisdom of pioneers and veterans in compost manufacturing and impart to our customers and collaborators what we know now and what we have yet to learn about creating a mutually beneficial model of engagement for the future.
We sincerely thank our supporters and funders for the privilege to serve you and the millions of citizens served by our compost manufacturing network throughout the U.S. We look forward to pioneering the integration of practical compostable options into our network facilities, but we also need your help! We encourage supply chain leaders to reach out and guide our industry with practical solutions to contamination upstream so that we can address current issues with packaging in feedstocks overall, moving contaminants OUT of the collection bins, and CMA certified compostables and food scraps into the bin.