If the package says compostable, proceed with caution

There are a growing number of products making compostability claims.  But, sadly, the word “compostable” on the package is not a guarantee.

In an age when anyone can claim almost anything about a product and get away with it, fake certifications – imaginary marks and logos that manufacturers hope consumers will think are certifications – abound.  

While products can obtain third-party certification for compostability, there is no legal requirement that they have this certification before claiming their product is “compostable.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission website, advertising must be “truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.”

But somewhere along the way, the FTC seems to have changed the definition of the words “truth in advertising” without informing the public.

White glue is used instead of milk in cereal commercials, the fast food burger from the local drive-thru is half the size of its TV counterpart, and greenwashing has become a favored tool of unscrupulous manufacturers.

Saying a product is compostable is not the same as having that product certified as such by a legitimate certification agency.  Having someone on the manufacturer’s staff “verify” the product meets a specific ASTM standard is not the same as third-party certification.

In this day and age of lax FTC oversight over advertising language, consumers need to be extra cautious about compost–related claims.

Caveat emptor … is that seal legit?

Beware of manufacturers who make up their own “compostable” logos to fool the public into thinking their product has been vetted by a real certification entity.

When in doubt, pull out your phone and look them up before adding the package to your shopping cart.

Seals on the package should indicate testing and certification from legitimate third-party agencies like the Biodegradable Products Institute  and OK Compost.

A manufacturer certifying with a bona fide agency will be proud of that association and name the certifier on the product, in its shopping site product descriptions, and/or on its own website.

If that info is missing, give the item and manufacturer a pass.

Can your community compost compostables?

If you are not 100% sure your community is served by a high-rate composting operation that accepts compostable plastic, don’t buy “compostable” at all.

Even cardboard or paper products can be lined or coated with a bio-resin that requires an advanced composting process for biodegradation.

You won’t be able to compost the item or packaging at home, and it can’t be recycled any other way.  In fact, if a bioplastic gets tossed into the wrong bin, a compostable plastic is a contaminant for recyclers of traditional plastic.

Check out your city or county website or contact the local recycling coordinator to find out exactly what materials can or cannot be composted in your community.