As from 1st January 2024, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan (pop. 124,000) will not accept plastic in its composting facilities.
City officials say they aim to reduce windblown litter at the site and the amount of contamination in the final compost. “Compostable” plastics can get confused with petroleum-based plastics and end up in the recycling stream, officials say. These lightweight plastics also rise to the top of compost piles and are swept away by winds leading to litter.
The city says it recognizes this change may be frustrating to those who rely on previously advertised compostable plastic products, but it emphasizes the contamination and litter the items cause at compost facilities.
This includes plastic kitchen compost liners –“ items that will no longer be accepted, as they pose the greatest challenge,” according to City officials.
I notice that the Biodegradable Products Institute (the US lobbyists for plastic marketed as compostable) have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging them to update their definition of composting and set a definition for composting feedstocks.
The idea is of course to get industrial composters to accept more of their clients’ plastic bags, but the USDA would do well to reject this petition. As the experience of Ann Arbour Michigan and other cities shows, there is no place for plastic of any kind in the composting process. On 14th November 2022 the UK Minister for the Environment confirmed that “evidence suggests these materials are often stripped out at the start of the process and landfilled or incinerated”
Food waste is less likely to be sent for composting if householders think they have to put it in an expensive bio-based plastic bag. Epsom & Ewell Borough Council in the UK tells its residents: “We used to ask you to use bio-liners to line your food-waste caddy, but the food-waste recycling companies found that bio-liners compost down much more slowly than the food. That slowed the recycling process and made it much more expensive. They tried dredging the bio-liners out of the food waste, but the sticky bio-liners got tangled around the dredging equipment, and cleaning them off was very expensive.”
I see that some companies in the fashion packaging industry have been switching from single-use plastic to paper-based packaging, driven by consumer demand “as climate issues enter more into the spotlight and are becoming no longer ignorable.” They say that using paper or cardboard packaging is crucial to them when considering a brand’s level of environmental sustainability.
However, even if the common perception is that paper packaging is more environmentally friendly than its plastic counterpart, it still causes waste if not adequately recycled.
Perceived demand from consumers who do not have the time to consider the matter in depth is leading the fashion industry in the wrong direction. In fact Life-cycle Assessments show that paper has a greater global warming potential than plastic. For this and other reasons the fashion industry should stay with plastic, but make it with d2w technology so that it won’t lie or float around for decades. See https://www.biodeg.org/subjects-of-interest/paper-bags/
Small changes can make a big impact in the long term.
Michael Stephen is a lawyer and was a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, where he served on the Environment Select Committee. When he left Parliament Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. attracted his attention because of his interest in the environment. He is now Deputy Chairman of Symphony, which is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, and is the founder and Chairman of the Biodegradable Plastics Association.
Earlier Postings in this Column
Interview with Michael Stephen
The opinions expressed here by Michael Stephen and other columnists are their own, not those of Bioplasticsnews.com