Is your composting program stuck in a rut?

Traditionally, education designed to alter behaviors has focused on attitude adjustment.  But the primary motivators of modern societies suggest a composting program might be more successful if proponents tried psychologically-based persuasions, instead.

Is your community’s composting program stuck in the mud?  We humans do seem to like our ruts, contentedly wallowing in an ever-deepening track even as it fills with muck and water.

Most of us are slow to adapt and adopt, even when newer options offer advantages (including cost) over existing practices or models.  In fact, psychologists say humans need to see at least twice the benefit to abandon the status quo and try something new.

Understanding the psychology behind decision-making may not simplify the task, but it can help pro-composting activists build stronger cases for a better composting program with both decision-makers and the community at large.

Enter the field of behavioral economics

At its best, behavioral economics uses human nature to encourage people to make better choices.

One example is positioning the preferred option as the “default” and requiring the individual to take action to “opt out” of the most cost-effective and/or environmentally-preferred service.  It is a tactic that works and works well.  In fact, some suggest psychological/behavioral agents of change are more effective than those using education to shift attitudes.  

Behavior analysts say little “nudges” like better signage, different lids, or repositioning trash and composting bins can increase recycling rates and improve a composting program without punitive or costly measures. (This report contains examples of behavioral change strategies that might be suitable for your composting program.)

Unfortunately, like so many other avenues of research, behavioral studies specific to composting are sorely lacking.  But we can see the strength of psychological and behavioral persuasion all around us.

Using the power of peer pressure

Consider the power of peer pressure and social media “influencers.”  Even though everyone knows influencers – those with a high number of followers on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. –  may have been paid big bucks to plug a specific product or service, using influencers is still a successful tool for marketers.  

Why?  Because people listen to people they like and trust.  We also embrace the popular, a phenomenon known as “the bandwagon effect.”

So, the obvious question is:  How can the industry make composting more popular?

If we are to believe current thinking, it’s no longer enough to simply stand by and wait for the cream (i.e., composting) to rise to the top.  In today’s world, distribution is king.

When reminders are visible, numerous, and frequent, people tend to be more mindful and more willing to try something new … especially if their favorite people are doing it, too.

For an example of what one West Coast city tried to deliver a message, check out this composting food waste campaign targeting foodies.

How do your community’s efforts compare?

Even during Compost Awareness Week, were your town’s busiest thoroughfares lined with big, eye-catching reminders or did you settle for a press release and a smattering of ICAW posters hung in obscure places? 

Combating the convenience factor

Disposable diapers are the third highest consumer item landfilled, with 95% of mothers using disposable instead of cloth.  Each year, Americans spend more on paper towels than the rest of the world combined.  

About 1/3 of the population eats fast food every day – and that number is rising, too. And while the tons of MSW diverted to composting/recycling are inching up, so are total waste generation volumes.

Obviously, the U.S. is a nation that likes its convenience.

Convenience is a driving force behind the growth of e-commerce.  And almost all of us, at one time or another, have opted out of something simply because it wasn’t convenient.

Whether trying to introduce composting to a household, a school, a business, or a city, success will rest on a foundation that recognizes human nature and focuses on convenience.

When drop locations can only be reached by traveling an hour through heavy traffic (true story), they won’t be used.  

Compare this to one high-rise where a simple change – pulling all the bins from the ground floor and dividing them up so there were bins each floor – increased composting rates by 70%.

If distribution is king for spreading the word and increasing popularity, convenience is king for facilitating action.

Reward spurs action

Reward is a powerful human motivator.   Money, a gold medal, 1000 likes, a chocolate chip cookie – people will do just about anything if the reward is right.

While the EPA does not include backyard composting in its collection of MSW statistics, one survey suggests the number of households with a compost pile in the backyard may be quite low.  

The sort-of-good news is that a comfortable majority of Americans now favor composting.  Unfortunately, most of those same folks say they are not willing to make composting happen if it’s not convenient.  They aren’t willing to pay more for it, either.

As a motivator, it seems the reward of a healthier environment will struggle to overcome inconvenience and higher cost.

So, where does that leave composting?  What reward must be dangled before a reluctant public?

While communities wrestle with these heady questions, there’s one more influence that could be the factor that finally pulls all organics out of the disposal rut.

Changing of the guard

Senior managers and decision-makers in both the public and private sectors are edging toward and into retirement.

For the first time in history, the people moving into and advising those offices belong to a generation of kids who probably studied composting in elementary school, learned about environmental issues throughout their K-12 education, and witnessed Earth Day celebrations every year of their collective lives.

An article in Waste Advantage magazine says 43% of Millennials and Gen-Zers already compost.  And whether they compost or not, more than half of Americans are now millennials or younger – age groups that understand what composting is and what compost use can do for soil.

If recent Compost Clueless statements made by high profile individuals are any indication, the same cannot be said for the old guard.  So this particular period of transition could usher in a time of historic change that finally sees common sense triumph over convenience for organic waste management.

A composting gardener’s best friend is … a chicken

Puppy dogs, move over.  In the garden, a human’s best friend is a bird.

It’s good to have a gardening friend, especially one who can help with the composting, and weeding, and bug patrol – and still have the energy to provide an egg for breakfast most mornings.  We’re talking, of course, about a feathered friend, the chicken.

While most folks’ only acquaintance with the bird stems from its exalted position on the dinner plate, the live fowl can provide many years of dedicated service in the garden with minimal time or dollar investment.

The chicken as composting assistant

Chickens love to dig and scratch in the dirt.  That’s where they forage for food.

So if you toss veggie scraps in their pen or turn them loose on your compost pile, you may never have to turn that pile again.

Of course, their efforts won’t be nearly as neat as your own.  But if a commercial composting operation can use chickens to turn, so can you.

Can’t stand a messy compost pile?  Simply reshape the mound or windrow when they’ve eaten their fill.

Alternatively, sheet compost in the garden by spreading vegetable scraps out on unplanted rows or beds.  Their scratching will quickly turn that garbage into black gold.

The same action will help  to spread and incorporate compost you buy, too.

Put chickens on bug and weed patrol

You don’t want chickens scratching around in newly seeded rows or recent transplants.  But you can use them as biological bug zappers when plants mature.

Let a couple of chickens loose among the established rows each evening about an hour before nightfall.  You’ll never see another hornworm on the tomatoes again.  In fact, a host of creepy crawlers will disappear.

If chickens patrol the garden on a regular basis, weeds won’t be as big of a problem, either.  All of that scratching clears out emerging grass and weeds.

The chickens will return to the roost on their own before dark.  It may be necessary, however, for you to watchdog your helpers while they feed.  Hawks and other marauders consider chickens to be a tasty treat.

Restricting their time in the garden to about an hour each day will also limit their destructive powers.

Cock-a-doodle-don’t

Chickens are social creatures, so you need to have at least two.   But avoid roosters unless you want to go into the poultry business or harvest lots of chickens for your own table.

Sans rooster, a hen will lay an unfertilized egg every day or so throughout their adult lives, living for 5-10 years on average, depending on breed and living conditions.

With only hens, you and your neighbors won’t have to tolerate any irritating crowing at odd hours, either.

Once you’ve had some time to evaluate the capabilities of two hens, then you can decide if you need to add more chickens to your composting and gardening power team.

Be aware, however, that hens take a little time off from their egg laying duties during the winter months unless you artificially create more favorable lighting conditions.

How to pick a chick 

First, research zoning regulations and/or HOA rules to make sure you are permitted to have chickens on your property.

Then, seek out a layer operation in the region and source your hens from there.  A small, organic farm could be ideal, since they are likely raising heritage breed chickens.

The eggs from heritage hens may look and taste much the same as those produced by their conventionally-grown sisters.  But the plumage of a Rhode Island Red, Dominicker, or other older breeds can be much more colorful than production hens and provide extra protection against airborne predators.

Other traits can make one breed preferable over another, too, depending on an owner’s objectives.

Commercial egg producers will cull layers (battery hens) when they reach 1-3 years of age because egg production slows over time.  That’s when/why a farmer might be willing to sell a few birds.

Considering there are about 325 million layers in the US, the loss of one egg per week per hen is a big deal for a commercial producer.  But these older ladies will do just fine for a backyard flock.

You can also find chickens for sale at country auctions and online.  There are backyard chicken groups on the popular social sites, too.

But a few words of caution:

Unless you plan to go into the chicken business, don’t be tempted to buy peeps.  Yes, they’re cute, little balls of fluff.  But if you don’t want roosters, know that even the specialists hired by professional poultry producers to help them distinguish the gender of hatchlings sometimes get it wrong.

Buying an adult bird eliminates the guesswork and prevents your yard from being overtaken by too many chickens.

Also know that even hens make noise.  They’re not nearly as irritating as roosters, but they’re not silent during the day as they go about their scratching and egg laying.

Fortunately, they are quiet at night unless something disturbs their slumber.

Managing your garden helpers

Too many chickens can destroy a yard or garden.  That’s why you’ll probably want to start with only two.  You can always add more later.

Build or buy a secure chicken house or coop.  You don’t want rats and mice getting in because snakes will follow the rodents.  Mice can squeeze through a ¼-inch gap, so build it tight.  

Don’t forget to cover all chicken runs with wire mesh or other protective cover to keep your helpers safe.

As for food, chickens are domestic creatures, not bred for living in the wild.  They will likely need supplemental feed even if they are allowed to forage all day, especially in the winter.

Treat them well, keep ’em fed and watered, and those hens will reward you with well-turned compost, a bugless garden, and free eggs for many years to come.

Compost is the perfect companion for lazy gardeners

Whether you lack time, interest, or energy, compost can be the one product that gives you the garden of your dreams without a whole lot of effort.

You don’t want to spend the day putzin’ around with the bees, burning your nose to a crisp, or giving your knees a workout from which they may never recover.  You just want a few fresh veggies for the table and a petunia or two.

Well, darlin’, we have the perfect garden companion for you.

It’s called compost.

Put it in the ground, a container, or a garden sock.

Use it to build the soil, retain moisture, and deter nuisances like pests, diseases, and weeds.

Rely on it for conventional, regenerative, organic, sustainable, hydroponic, biointensive, or permaculture growing systems.

Shovel, rake, till, or plow it in … or simply sprinkle on top of the soil.

Layer it on thick enough, and it will serve as a root-cooling mulch, too.

Apply in the spring, mid-season, or fall.

One product, added to the soil once or twice a year, is all most home gardens will ever need.

Composting done right is not one size fits all

Environmental footprints are as varied in size and weight as the people and entities who leave the impressions.  

Companies like McGill recycle compostables for some of the largest waste generators in the country.  So why do we support community-scale and backyard composting?  Because composting done right is not one size fits all.  No single composting option is right for all organic waste streams.

In an ideal world, every business, institution, and household would have a composting operation of some description on the property.  The resulting compost would be reused nearby – on site, local urban garden, public greenspace, etc.

But while some folks would do a stellar job of converting that waste into a beautiful soil amendment, others would not.  Just imagine the resulting mountain of nuisance complaints and serious public health issues.

There is no cookie-cutter for composting done right 

The next best thing seems to be our present system of allowing property owners and communities with the ability and inclination to compost to do so, trusting the management of the remainder to big, professional outfits like McGill.

It’s a system that matches the size and type of the waste stream to the capabilities of the processor.  

Everyone gets to wear shoes that fit while making their footsteps on Planet Earth just little bit lighter.

But it’s important for the developers of these facilities – from backyard to industrial – to match facility design and process to the waste stream and site location.

Without ruffling a single neighborhood feather, a suburban homestead sitting on a couple of acres might build a simple slat/pallet enclosure. Folks could throw up a ring of wire mesh in the corner of the property and compost there.

But the same household, composting in a more congested setting, could trigger an avalanche of community complaints about mice, flies, and smells.  Here, a fully-enclosed gizmo like a tumbler might make more sense.

An urban food waste collection service composting well beyond city limits may do just fine with an outdoor windrow operation.  But placing that facility on an urban farm, surrounded by homes and/or businesses, could be a mistake.

For an industrial-sized plant sited in a manufacturing park, full enclosure and high-rate systems are probably mandatory.  But at a far-off landfill, that same waste stream might be successfully processed using a well-managed windrow.

Numbers don’t guarantee a good fit

Most are aware of the problems associated with buying shoes and other wearables strictly by a number.

One manufacturer’s size 8 could mirror another’s size 12 measurements.  A size 10 boot might be fine in length, but chafe at the calf.

So it is impossible to use numbers like processing tonnages or acreage as sole determinants when wrestling with a composting system match-up.

A general location might look good on paper, but when the only available sites in the area are public relations and regulatory disasters waiting to happen, the fit is all wrong. 

Outdoor windrows are cheap.  But urban waste streams demand tighter environmental control and facilities that don’t require large swaths of expensive real estate.

Obviously, composting done right is not one size fits all or even one size fits most.

Contemplating a backyard composting effort?  Urban farm project?  Municipal facility?  Choose a site, design, and process that matches the waste stream.

Wetter waste streams (like food waste) require more sophisticated processes and tighter environmental control than dry feedstocks.  High-volume composters need indoor facilities and/or lots of acres with well-vegetated buffers to provide out of sight, out of mind assurance.

Composting done right is always a better fit for everyone than composting done wrong.

It’s never too late to start a garden

If you could spell procrastinator before anyone else in your class had ever heard the word … 

You fully intended to start a garden by seeding tomatoes in February for spring transplanting.  But the packet of seeds is still sitting on top of the microwave.

The little 4×8 patch of lawn you painstakingly cleared and double dug on that blustery cold day in early March hasn’t been touched since and has already been reclaimed by centipede grass.

Yes, procrastination has struck again, this time, derailing those plans for a summer garden.

But as the saying goes, ’tis better late than never.  More to the point, there’s still plenty of time to plant and harvest.

It’s okay to start a garden now

Even growers who managed to seed those early crops will be busy through the summer months sowing for fall 2021 or early spring 2022 harvests.

In more temperate climes (zone 7-13), it’s possible to grow year-round, though some plants may need a little shade during the hottest months.

With the help of things like cold frames and row covers, points north may be able to extend their growing season, too – without investing in greenhouses.

The Internet abounds with schedules and crop suggestions to kickstart your garden regardless of the calendar page.

Other good resources for information about what to plant in your area – and when – include your local Cooperative Extension office, as well as farm supply stores and garden centers.

Whenever you plant, don’t forget the compost.  It can be used above or below ground almost any time of year. Don’t start a garden without it.

Home-compostable – bane or boon for the industry?

Compost certifications can be a bit of a muddle, especially for consumers.  Will this newest category help clear things up?

There is a new kid on the certifications block.  It’s called home-compostable” and has arrived in many parts of the world.  

Products based on this standard include next-gen bio-based films and resins manufactured with processes that will allow these types of plastics to degrade in the typical home composting environment.

The US has yet to develop a certification for this new compostables category.  However, the products themselves (carrying European and other certification logos) are available online and at some brick and mortar retailers.

And just this past April, scientists at a US-based lab announced a related breakthrough in its own project.  It’s a plastic that can completely disintegrate, even in the wild, without fouling soil, air, or water.  Cambridge just announced the development of a home-compostable resin, too.  

With the increasing availability of universally-compostable materials comes the promise of clarity for individuals and businesses hoping to divert more organics away from landfills and incinerators.

Should the industry care about home-compostable?

Let’s give this one a resounding yes.  If an item can compost at home, it should compost in most professionally-managed operations, too – big or small, municipal or commercial, indoor or outdoor, basic or advanced technology.

Home-compostable sets the stage for more successful municipal and commercial composting efforts when the most common bio-plastics can be composted almost anywhere by almost anyone.  No need for consumers to read the fine print as long as an item carries a big “compostable” label.

This paves the way for increased flows of food waste streams from non-composting households, restaurants, and other commercial and institutional entities – good news for composting’s existing infrastructure.

Thanks to science, objectives like universal compostability and disappearing plastic bags hover brightly on the horizon.

Even the US military is getting excited about the potential of this new breed of plastic.

But wait, there’s more

New plastics aren’t the only developments casting a warm glow over composting.

Advances in optical sorting technologies now facilitate the separation of waste streams into individual components.  Once widely adopted, these types of developments should increase capture rates of everything from plastics to fibers to organics.

The ability to utilize technology to separate wheat from chaff at all stages of resource recovery can positively impact everything from source separation to MRF management to anaerobic digestion.

Along the way, composting benefits, too, as the recipient of higher processing volumes and lower contamination of the organics stream. 

When some are starting to ban compostable plastics, the introduction of universally compostable resins is more than timely.

Emphasis on consumer-friendly labeling, alluring consumer incentives, and the modernization of the recycling/composting industries are keys to maximizing resource recovery, creating efficiencies, and fostering true circular economies for organics.

Throwing up one’s hands and abandoning the recycling of any material is no solution, especially when new products and technologies are waiting just around the corner.

What can I compost?

Can I compost bread?  Can I compost corncobs?  Can I compost leather gloves?  In a perfect world and under ideal conditions, the answer to all of the above is yes.  Unfortunately, this world is far from perfect, so that yes can be followed by a long string of asterisks.

One of the most common questions asked by those new to composting is “what can I compost?”

In truth, anything derived from plant or animal matter will biodegrade … eventually.  But time, temperature, and a slew of other variables will impact the practicality of choosing composting as a recycling method for any given material.

Generally, the home composter will do just fine using a tight, easy-to-turn vessel that contains excess liquid and deters marauders.  

Any mesh, drainage holes, or air vents in the composting unit should be 1/4 inch or less if deterring mice and the snakes that follow them is a priority.

With this type of composter, almost any kind of food waste (except meats and dairy) can be used as a feedstock.  Tear or chop big/dense leftovers like chunks of bread and corncobs into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to feasting microbes.  This helps all of the food waste degrade at a similar rate.

As for those gloves, while leather is compostable, so many manufactured products these days are processed, treated, or coated with chemicals that the leather might not be compost-friendly for the home compost pile.

Unless the manufacturer says an item is compostable in a home system and proves it with certification from a legitimate third-party, don’t put it in your compost pile.

Read the certification information carefully.  A lot of so-called “compostables” available in the marketplace cannot be composted where processes are simply not sufficiently robust to break down the material – and that would include nearly all residential composting efforts, as well as some city-owned and commercial operations.

Only a few US facilities use designs and/or technologies that can handle the full range of urban organic wastes.  (McGill is one of them.)

Good prep = rapid biodegradation

Chopping and shredding is something every large composting facility does to create a uniform particle size prior to composting.

These plants also mix thoroughly, ensure adequate airflow throughout the composting mass, and make certain the blend is neither too wet nor too dry.  

They also screen the compost post-processing to break up clumps and sift out any bigger, partially composted materials.  These are re-blended and added to a new composting pile to complete their decomposition.

The closer the home compost-maker can come to emulating these management practices (which are all about process control), the faster the rate of decomposition and higher the rate of composting success … even when breaking down tough ingredients.

That’s why modern, high-rate composting operations can handle things like biodegradable plastics and petroleum hydrocarbons when the home compost pile struggles with corncobs.

Don’t try this at home

While most things can be successfully composted at home, meat and dairy, along with the cooking juices and fats-oils-grease (FOG) in which they were prepared, cannot.

These types of foods will harbor pathogens, and the typical home composting effort will not reach the kill point temperatures required to neutralize them.

Pet waste falls into the same category.

However, small amounts of plant-based oils – provided they were not used to cook meats or dairy – can be composted at home.

We are talking about the salad dressing swimming with the leftover lettuce at the bottom of the serving bowl or the spritz of olive oil coating those uneaten air-fried veggies – not the 3 gallons of waste oil from the turkey fryer.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do with banned FOG except pour it into a non-recyclable container and toss it into the trash.  It won’t compost in the anaerobic environment of a landfill, but it won’t clog your pipes, septic system, or sewer lines, either.

In other words, never ever pour fats, oils, or grease down the kitchen sink.  And – no – a hot water chaser will not make the gunk magically disappear from your piping system.

The good news is FOG will compost at a facility using a good, commercial process.

In fact, commercial kitchens routinely send grease trap waste to composting facilities.  If your community doesn’t have a composting operation that can handle this type of food waste, perhaps it’s time to give the folks at City Hall a nudge.  

READ MORE:

This post also includes information on reducing the amount of FOG going to the landfill or sewer system from your kitchen.

FAQ:  How do I add compost to mature trees and shrubs?

Q:  My established plantings need some compost, but won’t all that digging hurt the root systems?

A:  Think “massage” and not “excavation” to add compost to mature trees and shrubs.  It’s hard to overdo it when using compost and as little as 1/8 of an inch can net visible results.

While there are many ways to apply this soil amendment, these are among the easiest:

For mulched trees 

Scrape away mulch and, using the spreading method of choice, apply up to 2 inches of compost out to the drip line (the widest point of the tree canopy).  

Rake lightly to even out the surface.  But no need to dig in.  This application method is called “top dressing” for a reason.  Happily, over the coming weeks and months, Mother Nature will take care of soil incorporation for you.  Simply reapply the mulch once the area has been covered with compost.

If some of the area under the tree is grassed 

Gently work up to 1/2 inch of compost into the turf with a rake or broom.  You are giving the earth a gentle back scratch, not plowing.  But it’s okay to scratch a little harder where you have bare spots or fairy rings, because compost has been known to help solve some of these types of yard maintenance issues.

A light sprinkle with the hose or irrigation system can also help move compost from the grassy surface to the soil.

But keep the water use to a minimum.  If the application area gets too wet, you’ll just lose all that compost to runoff, wasting both the water and the compost while becoming a contamination source for receiving waters or the stormwater system.

For shrubs and planting beds

Remove mulch, lay down up to 2 inches of compost, and remulch. As an alternative, if you want to apply 3 or 4 inches of compost, it can serve as mulch.

Just be careful to avoid piling compost up around woody stems and tree trunks.  This practice invites insects and could, eventually, kill the plant.

Try compost to cut costs and boost profits

Farmers aren’t using compost just to help the environment.  They’re using it because compost increases the bottom line.

Like the cowboys of the old West, field crop farmers spend a lot of time in the saddle. That seat may be well-padded vinyl inside an air-conditioned cab or painted metal bouncing along atop an ancient Farmall H. 

But no matter how glitzy or simple the ride, the occupants of those seats spend many hours a day alone with their thoughts, traversing mile upon mile of terrain as they navigate back and forth across their fields.

One of the things they think about is soil.  And over the years, there has been a significant shift in thinking as conventional farmers embrace soil practices once thought to be reserved for sustainable/organic agriculture.

Organic production may only represent 2% of all agricultural acreage in the US.  But, depending on the information source and the crop, the number of farmers using one or more sustainable practices could now be as high as 95%.

From extended crop rotations to compost use, these types of environmentally-preferred applications have been shown to increase both yields and profits.  This success encourages other growers to try compost.

In fact, in regions served by McGill facilities, conventional farmers have been adding compost to their fields for decades for just those reasons.

Why has compost become such an integral component of American agriculture?  Because it rebuilds damaged, depleted soil.  It replenishes lost organic matter, beneficial soil microbes, and nutrients.  Healthy soil grows healthy plants that can better resist pests and diseases.  It holds more water while, at the same time, improving drainage.

And because compost use improves nutrient intake, farmers can reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizers applied to their fields, too.  All of these benefits contribute to higher profits.

Ready to try compost?

Compost is the thoughtful choice for organic, sustainable, regenerative, conventional, plasticulture, permaculture, biointensive, urban, vertical … almost any type of farming (or gardening) system, indoors or out, irrigated or not.

Apply it with a spreader truck, blower truck, pull-behind, push spreader, hand-cranked spreader, shovel, or broadcast by hand.

Use it with other soil products or as a stand-alone.

Buy it in bulk, by the bag, or make your own.

Join the ranks of progressive, thoughtful growers of all descriptions, and just try compost.

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.