Plastics may have been the buzzword when Dustin Hoffman starred in The Graduate, but let’s face it: they represent a major waste management problem today. Among the things loathed most by landscape professionals and home gardeners alike are plastics. Plastics are ubiquitous—finding their way into just about everything and that includes composts and mulches.
Once upon a time, consumers were limited to directing plastic wastes to recycling or entombment in a landfill. Today’s plastic waste spectrum includes conventional, reusable, recyclable, degradable, biodegradable, photodegradable, oxidatively degradable, hydrolytically degradable, compostable, eco-friendly, and green descriptors that fall just short of requiring a Ph.D. in chemistry to decipher.
Many of the claims associated with degradable plastics remain to be substantiated; and those that have been vetted via ASTM D6400, EN 13432, ISO 14855, or the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) thoroughly confuse consumers by complicating the disposal process.
Should a biodegradable plastic go in the green can, brown can, blue can, or home composter? Well…it depends. And that’s the problem.
Many communities throughout the Bay Area are recovering green waste and food scraps via composting to reduce their ecological impact and rejuvenate local soils with organic matter. Often “allowed” in the feedstock are compostable or biodegradable plastic-coated paper products, bio-bags, and corn or potato starch cups and tableware. What is, or is not, allowed depends upon where you live and the reading of the bio-plastics tea leaves by local authorities and the compost producer.
To make this even more frustrating, compost made with bio-plastics is not considered an organic input material as defined by the 2011 Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Generic Materials List, nor has the National Organic Program (NOP) classified bio-plastics as an “allowable synthetic input” in organic agriculture. As a result, any compost produced with bio-plastics in the feedstock should not, and cannot, be called organic.
It’s at this point that I move for the application of common sense and the Precautionary Principle, and call for nixing all plastics from compost and mulch production. Period.
As consumers, both landscape professionals and home gardeners must proactively assess compost and mulch products for their constituents. The best approach is to use only compost and mulch products in which ALL plastics are not allowed. To this end, I urge all readers not to dispose of any plastics in a container intended for green waste or food scraps. Equally important is not to use plastic bags to line green waste or food scraps bins.
When in doubt, leave it out!
You have a responsibility to do your part in ensuring that plastics don’t end up where it just doesn’t make sense.