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GREEN PACKAGING GLOSSARY

ASTM D6400 - Composting Standard

A standardized test for compostable products that assesses their ability to degrade in a composting facility at the same rate as yard trimmings or food waste. According to the standard, the compostable material should fully biodegrade in 180 days in a "commercial" organic composting facility.

Biodegradable

The ability to completely break down, safely and relatively quickly, into raw materials of nature from the action of natural, biological microorganisms such as fungi, algae, bacteria, etc., and then disappear into the environment.

Composting - Commercial (Organic)

A mixture of degradable garbage, trash and soil, in which bacteria break down the mixture into a soil conditioner (not a fertilizer). It has high organic content but low in nitrogen.

Materials specifically designed to be commercially compostable must be sent to a commercial organic composting facility (organic waste center) to be exposed to constant heat (180 degrees or more), pressure, and or microbial environments enriched with microorganisms like bacteria to biodegrade. According to the composting standard, ASTM D6400, the material should fully degrade within 180 days.

All PLA plastic bags and containers need to be commercially composted. They will not degrade in a landfill or home and yard waste composting.

There are only about 120 commercial composting facilities in the US. Of these, only an estimated 28 sites accept PLA products.

Composting - Yard Waste

Yard trimmings like grass and leaves are sent to yard waste compost centers throughout the country. There are approximately 3000 yard waste composting facilities in the United States. These centers are different from commercial (organic) composting centers.

Yard waste compost centers cannot accept PLA packaging. PLA materials must be exclusively composted in commercial organic composting centers.

Since most consumers are not aware that PLA compostable packaging (trays, bags, spoons, etc.) are not degradable by most recognized curbside yard waste compost services, this type of packaging often ends up in landfills - defeating the purpose of their existence and high cost of production. (PLA does not degrade in landfills.)

Note: In the United States today there are 3000 yard waste composting facilities, but only 134 commercial organic compost centers. Since permits for commercial composting facilities are very difficult to obtain by municipalities, their existence in most neighborhoods are prohibited and undesired, limiting their accessibility. As a result, most PLA materials end up in the landfills.

Degradability

Ability of materials to break down and undergo a significant change to their chemical structure under specific environmental conditions by bacterial (biodegradable) or ultraviolet (photodegradable) action.

Greenhouse Gasses

O2, Methane, N2O, Fluorinated Gas emitted through human activities.

PLA (Polylactic Acid) Material

PLA is often made by adding corn, sugar beets, wheat and other starch-rich products to a form of synthetic materials like polyester. With materials like Ecoflex (modified polyester) being a key ingredient to these PLA compostable products, they are not necessarily as natural as claimed. Polylactic acid exhibits similar properties to petroleum-based plastic and are often confused for plastics.

Post-Consumer Recycled Material - (PCR)

This is any material that was used and discarded by a consumer or business and captured before going to a landfill. This material is then recycled for use into a new product. It's what you take to the recycling center or put into a recycling program container for pickup.

A product label might indicate how much post-consumer recycled content the product contains. Usually it is stated by a percentage. Paper, corrugated boxes, plastic, steel, glass and rubber are among post-consumer discards that get recycled into such things as bags, boxes, insulation, park benches, milk bottles, etc.

Post-Industrial Recycled Material - (PIR)

This is excess, scrap or trim material that has been recovered by a factory during and after the manufacturing process but did not enter into the consumer stream.

Recycled

Products that are made from items recovered from the waste system, reprocessed into a new products and offered to consumers and businesses as a new item. Recycled products can be made from either PCR or PIR material. Some products contain both PCR and PIR.

Recyclable

This defines products and materials that can be collected from the waste stream, recycled into a new products, or reused.

Sustainable Packaging

Packaging that maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.

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