Australasian Bioplastics Association offers verification for compostable items

compostable items

The Australasian Bioplastics Association is taking the guesswork out of choosing genuinely compostable items so everyone can compost with confidence.

As Australia transitions to a circular economy and aims for net zero emissions, more consumers are making choices based on sustainability. Ensuring any environmental claims are backed up by robust evidence is critical for businesses that want to avoid any hint of greenwashing, says Rowan Williams.

The President of the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) says verification and labelling are key to providing clarity for consumers and can help organisations achieve sustainable procurement goals.

He says there’s likely to be an increasing focus on claim verification and the authenticity of claims as the push towards transparency and reporting in the circular economy continues.

The ABA has been the peak body for the bioplastics industry in Australia and New Zealand since 2006, promoting the appropriate use of bioplastics that are certified compostable, based on renewable resources, or both. 

Membership is from across the spectrum of the bioplastics industry, including manufacturers, converters, and distributors of bioplastic products and materials throughout the region.  

Alongside its member-based activities, the ABA also administers several voluntary verification schemes, for companies or individuals who want to have their compliance to standards verified.  

Compostable items
Image: Australasian Bioplastics Association

The schemes include one for Australian Standard (AS)4736-2006 – Biodegradable plastics suitable for composting and other microbial treatment; AS5810-2010 – Biodegradable plastics suitable for home composting; and the newest – launched in 2023 – for ISO 23517:2021 – Plastics. Soil biodegradable materials for mulch films for use in agriculture and horticulture.

“Voluntary verification schemes, such as those administered by the ABA, are an effective tool for all parts of the organics recovery value chain to easily identify certified compostable and certified soil biodegradable items and ensure that the product meets the requirements for the intended end of life recovery,” Rowan says. 

“Most people are probably more familiar with the verification schemes than they think, through seeing the associated logos on everyday items.”

Each verification scheme can support circularity and the organics value chain in different ways. The most familiar is the ‘commercial’ AS4736-2006 certification and corresponding ‘Australasian seedling’ logo.

To be certified compostable and carry the seedling logo, items considered suitable for verification must undergo a stringent test regime outlined by AS4736 and carried out by independent accredited laboratories.

The seedling logo is used on, among other items, certified compostable food organic, garden organic (FOGO) caddy liners, certain food service ware items, and food packaging, helping millions of Australians divert more kitchen waste. 

“Data and qualitative feedback have consistently shown throughout the past 20 years that certified compostable caddy liners increase the capture rate for kitchen organics,” Rowan says. “They remove the yuk factor barrier at household level and facilitate effective engagement with the FOGO service.  

“Where certified compostable liners are supplied, councils enjoy a higher capture rate of organics to FOGO, by up to 30 per cent, than those that don’t supply, or are unable to accept, certified liners.”

He says verification of the liners via the AS4736 and AS5810 programs means that every part of the value chain can be confident that the claims of compostability have been verified as meeting the requirements of AS4736 and AS5810.  

The ‘seedling’ logo is a quick and easy way of identifying certified compostable products. That means consumers know which liners to buy (or not), as do councils. 

coompostable items
To carry the seedling logo, items considered suitable for verification must undergo a stringent test regime outlined by AS4736. Image: Australasian Bioplastics Association

“Importantly, organics recyclers, and anyone wanting to safely and hygienically manage food waste in a home compost system, can be confident that the certified liners will break down completely into water, carbon dioxide and biomass,” Rowan says. “Verification also signals that no added Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are present. This in turn helps to support the organics recycling industry to continue to produce high quality materials, which we know is important in maintaining the sustainability of compost end markets.”

The AS5810 ‘home compostable’ verification scheme works in a similar way, and the logo is often found on items such as certified compostable food packaging, coffee cups, and cling film, signalling the item’s suitability for home composting. 

Rowan says AS4736 and AS5810 are the most stringent in the world, with an earthworm ‘ecotoxicity test’ that is not necessarily required in other jurisdictions today but is coming. 

In 2023, a third verification program was added by the ABA, for Certified Soil Biodegradable Mulch Film. This program, Rowan says, can change the game on how problematic plastics are managed on farms across the country.  

Every year in Australia, the agriculture and horticulture sectors use about 200,000 kilometres of single-use plastic mulch film – enough to reach around the Earth five times. At the end of each growing season, it’s gathered up and disposed of – bringing a huge labour cost with it. 

More than 86 per cent isn’t recycled, leaving significant amounts of film to be disposed of in other ways such as burning or landfill. If left in the soil, conventional mulch films will break down into harmful microplastics. 

So, how can these issues be overcome?

Rowan says bioplastic mulch film certified to ISO 23517 helps avoid or eliminate many of these problems. This certified mulch film is designed to biodegrade in-situ, and the certification means that farmers can be confident that the film will fully biodegrade without harmful effects, or any microplastics being deposited in the soil.

“The savings in labour and proper disposal costs are significant, and simplifying on-farm waste management is always going to be popular with farmers,” he says. 

“The need to recover, store, transport, and dispose of a significant amount of pre-farm gate waste is circumvented, with no harmful effects on the soil. Additionally, the cost of inappropriate disposal of conventional plastic film which is rarely properly accounted for in terms of environmental cost, such as burning or dumping down mine shafts, is avoided.” 

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