WIST Offers Packaging Compostability Testing


by | Aug 13, 2013

WISTThe Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology has developed a test that determines how well packaging decomposes under industrial composting conditions.

The new service will help manufacturers meet the growing demand for sustainable packaging materials, WIST says.

WIST’s testing protocol determines whether materials meet ASTM D6400 or D6868 standards for compostability. The testing protocol includes three stages: a disintegration trial, plant seed germination trial and biodegradability trial. It takes a minimum of 120 days to complete the full protocol.

The disintegration trial tests how well the material will break down in a stable environment. The plant germination trial determines how well the material will germinate seeds. Finally, in a biodegradability trial, the material being tested is placed in a sealed vessel, and instruments record the amount of CO2 generated. CO2 is produced during decomposition and release of CO2 is then compared to that of cellulose decomposition.

Paul Fowler, WIST executive director, says the test will give the packaging industry the information it needs to make compostable packaging claims in their marketing.

Compostable materials can be diverted from landfills and the compost may be put to productive use, yielding a double environmental gain.

Compostable packaging is becoming more important, particularly in the food industry, because packaging contaminated with food or composed of several different types of material is difficult to recycle, WIST says. At the same time, consumers are increasingly aware of environmental impacts and companies have an opportunity to gain market share by addressing consumer concerns.

Regulatory change is adding to the demand for biodegradable packaging. Some communities, such as Seattle, have banned from landfills single-use food packaging, napkins, beverage cups and related items. Those must be composted or recycled. And the push to divert food waste from landfills has created a market for “bio bags,” biodegradable bags used to collect food waste. The bag and food waste can all be tossed in the compost bin.

Paper products typically require additional coatings or other modifications to perform well as food containers, and that affects how well they decompose. While manufacturers are scrambling to develop compostable packaging, only a handful of labs currently offer testing in the US, Fowler says.

The testing service will also help companies adhere to the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, revised in October 2012. The green-marketing guides outline how companies may advertise environmental attributes — such as compostability — of their products.

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