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. (ompostable Products , ' /Ujldate




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STABLISHED in the mid - 1980s , the Miramar Greener y composting faci l ity current l y operates on 75 acres in t he Cit y of San Diego , Cal - ifornia . The facilit y annuall y pro - ce s se s over 100 , 000 t o n s of or ga nic materi a l . In th e pa s t decad e, the city ' s Environmental S er vic es Department (ESD) l aunched a food scrap composting pro -

gram to s e rvice large , l oca l commerci a l i n - s titut i on s ( e.g ., public ve nu e s , s tadiums ) at

Materials in the selected products included plastic (e.g., PLA, starch-based polymers and blended resins), paper, paper with linings, bagasse, wood and pressed leaves. An item number was assigned to each product.

City conducts study to determine whether products labeled as compostable and/or bio degradab le would successfully break down in its open windrow composting process.

Paige Hailey


e Green e r y . Sourc e s epar at ed food s crap s a r e deli ve red


the Greenery a nd unloaded into a horse-

shoe - shaped barr i er of ground yard tri m- mings. The load is mix e d with those trim- ming s and plac e d into an open window . Afte r 10 w eek s ofturnin g and w a t ering , the mate - r ial is s cr ee n e d into h a lf - inch compo s t , 2- inch mulch and 4-inch o ve r s using a Komptech XL star screen. The 11 reg u lar p a rticipants in th e food s crap program con - tribute approximatel y 2 , 500 tons/ ye ar of

food scraps. Each generator recei ves ext e n s iv e tr a in-

in g at their site and a 6-month trial b e fore b e ing accepted a s a regular p articipant . Two of t h e e x isting participa n ts a re the San

Di eg o Earth Fai r a nd th e San Diego Count y

F a ir . Variou s oth e r zero w a s t e ev en ts i n th e

cit y are accommodated a s wel l .

Unlik e man y compos t ing f aciliti es, th e

Gr e ener y does not preprocess, s hred or grind

food scraps before incorporating them into

windrow s. The Gre e n e r y also do es not accept

an y incomin g or g anic mat e rial in b ags,

w h e th e r tradition a l plastic or c ompo stab l e . B ags inhibit the s taff s abilit y to e a s il y i den -

tif y contamination . Th ese two oper at i o n a l

variab l es contribute to the structure of th e

e ntire food scrap compo s ting pro g ram .


In anticipation of r ecei v ing more p a rtici-

pa nt s in the food compo s ting program, the

E S D decided to initiat e a compostable prod-

u c t s trial . M an y pro s p ec ti ve p art ic i p a nt s e x - pr ess ed inter est in s in g le-u se comp os tabl e p r oduc ts; ho wev er , past feedback from Greener y operation s s taff indicat e d that th e se prod u cts did not t y pically bre a kdown in th e city 's compo s ting p r oces s . The goa l of the s tudy was to v e r if y if c o mpo s table produc t s d eg rad e in th e G re e n e r y's compo s ting pro - ce s s and also to id e nt i f y table wa re product s th a t would be acc e pted in food s crap loads . The project b e ga n wit h m a rket re search a nd selection of 105 different compo s table product s to te s t. Se lection w a s ba s ed on s u g - g e st ion s fr om cu r r e n t and pro s pecti ve food s crap pro g ram p ar ticip a nt s as w ell as local availabilit y , div e rsific a tion of us es , co s t and an assortment of materia l compos i tion . Ma -


B ro C YC L E


UG U S T 2 01 0

terial s in the s e l e c t ed product s included plastic ( s uc h a s p o l y lactic acid ( PLA) , s tarch- based p o l y mer s and blended r e sins), paper, paper w it h lin in gs , b a gas s e , wood and pres s ed le av e s. Th e m a jo ri t y of the product s s e l e cted m eet Am e r ican Societ y for T es ting a nd Mat erial s ( A STM ) standard s ( either ASTM D 68 6 8 or ASTM D6400 s tandards for biodegr a d a bility and compostabil i ty), and many h ave Biodegradable Products Insti- tut e ( BPI ) c e rt ification. Ho w ev er, some prod- uct s th at hav e not undergone ASTM e v alua - tion w ere i ntentionall y te s ted as w ell . All of the product s were bought off the s h e lf or through web sites in January 2010. An it e m number wa s assi g ned to each product and individual portfolios w e re cr e - at e d . Information in the portfolio included manufacturer id e ntification number ( U PC o r SKU ), brand a nd m a nufactur e r , m a t e rial

or r e sin t y pe , s uppli e r , certification s and s t andard s met . The por t folio al s o included photographs of each product , initial mea- surement s, and a detail e d desc r iption .


Mesh o n ion bag s wer e used to cont a in the sample s a nd compost f ee dstock - approxi-


biodegrad a bl e product s a nd 70 perc e nt ac- tiv e compo s t ( food scraps and yard trim - mings) by volume. Each bag h e ld thr e e to four sampl es of a given produ c t w ith an av- e rage of thre e to fi v e product t y p e s equ a ling a total of 1 5 to 20 item s p e r ba g . To expo se mat e r ials to the mo s t ideal com- posting condition s , the b a gs were placed in


p e rcent



----- ---------------- ----- - - ===== - --== = = - :=- = =- , - - - - , ---

t he c e nter of an acti ve compo s tin g windrow. After the first week , with temperatures hov - ering around 145°F, ! the bags wer e remov e d and th e windrow wa s aerated using a Scarab

turn e r.

tied , sif t ed throu g h , a nd th e s ample s w er e

indi v idually ev alu a t e d for decomposition . The e v aluation included photographs, m e a- surements and a detailed d e scription of each product. Particular attention was given to \ any changes in color , texture, siz e and frag- I ment a tion. After ev a luation , the bags w e re r e constitu t ed using th e sam e feed s tock and placed back in the c e nter of the windrow. The b a gs were removed from the windrow and samples evaluated once every two week s . over t h e 10 we ek study. , The final tim e the bag s we re r e moved , all sa mple fra g ment s wer e coll e cted and each it e m ' s final measur e ment w a s tak e n . E a ch p roduct po r tfolio was analyzed and then c l a ss ifi e d i nto five categories of degradation d e p e nd i ng on the percentage of d e composi -

tion: 0 to 2 4 p ercent , 25 to 49 per ce nt , 50 to t

74 perce n t, 75 to 99 percent , and 100 pe r -

cent . F o r ex a mple , if a product 's r e maining m e asu r e m e n t was gr e ater than 80 percent of th e ori g i n a l , t h e n the produ c t de g raded less

tha n 75 p ercen t a nd it wa s cat e goriz e d a s a o to 24 p e rc e nt biode g radation r a t e .

The content s of the bags we re e mp -

Table 1. Biodegradation results

Percent of Total

Number of

Degradation (%)












The result s of the study are summarized

in T a ble 1 . More than half

ucts did not biodegrade gr e ater th a n 25 per- I

cent ! Four produc ts degrad e d be tw e e n 25 to

74 p e rcent , t hree product s degr a ded be-

tween 75 to 99 percent, and

products completely degrad e d. Further an a l y si s of the data det e rmin e d the majorit y of the 3 7 products that corn- s plet e l y biodegr a d e d were made of PLA . l In f a ct , 26 oftho s e we r e compri s ed of pure PLA ( i . e. PLA without t he inclu s ion of any addi- tives for desired plastic characteristics such as strength , malleability or heat resistanc e) . On the other hand , a ll the oth e r material t y pe s t e s ted had v er y incon s istent re s ult s. For e xa mpl e, se v e n baga sse product s , from a v ari e t y of m a nufacturers , completely de- grad e d ; however, 20 other bagasse products did not . None of the compostable cutler y 1 showed an y r e al sign of d e gradation All

of the 105 prod t

37 of the 105

Mesh bags contained the samples and compost feedstock. They were lined up numerically in the windrow.

wooden and leaf items partially degraded, which is comparable to the rate ofbiodegra - dation of small branches or woody matter in the windrow . Ultimat e ly , the city's results indicate that th e re was no consistent pattern of'biodegra- dation in t he materials tested (other than the item s of pure PLA). ASTM ha s two standards related to biodegradation. ASTM D6400 and D6868 standards require the material to disinte- grate and biodegrade within a specific time period. Although ASTM tested and BPI cer ; tified products did show greater degradation I

Bags were removed from the windrow and samples evaluated every two weeks over the lO-week study. None of the compostable cutlery showed any real sign of degradation.

Overcoming Cross-Media Challenges


This conference brings together organic residuals industry professionals , munici- palities, regulators , resea r chers and other stakeholders to identif y and help realize options that provide the greatest ecologi- cal and municipal benefits for manures, biosolids, food wastes, green wastes and other organic residuals. Disco v er options that best serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, p r o v ide local sources o f fuels and fertilizers, help r estore soils , ensure food safet y, and protect public health and ecosystems.

A chal l enge to r ealizing man y organic

residuals projects derives from the regu-

lator y permitting process and conflicting objectives among government agencies .

A particular focus of this conference will

be ho w our regulatory processes can be adjusted , so net environmental benefits can be realized.


Sponsors include the U.S. EPA Region 9,


Department of Resources

Rec y cling and Reco v er y , Central Valle y Regional Water Quality Control Board , USDA Natural Re s ources Conservation Servi c e , USD A Rural Development, Western United Dairymen , Sustainable Conservation , California Association of Sanitation A g e ncies, Sacramento

Municipal U til it y District (SMUD), BioCycle Maga z ine and UC Davis Extension.

• 2 meeting s .

• Sept. 14-15: T u es.-Wed . , 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

• Sacrament o : S a c ramento Convent i on Center , 14 00 J S t.

• $ 195. In c lud es r e freshments and meals , a s o c i a l a nd a fi e ld trip. Enroll in sec ti o n 102HSD590.

For mor e inf o rm a tion or to enroll, please co n t ac t u s at ( 800) 752-0881 or visit our we bs ite.

www.extension.ucdavis . edu/environmen t al


potential in most cases, there was no concl u - sive evidence from this study to suggest th a t

all certified products will fully degrade at t i le Greenery. l I n fact, 15 items that were both ASTM and BPI certified showed almost no effects of biodegradation at ali i . The results of this study led to a decision to hold off accepting any type of compostable products at the Greenery as routine feed- stocks . Two components of the results fac- tored strongly into th i s decision:

1) the unpredictable degradation rates ofthe materials; and 2) the obvious lack of degra- dation by the majority of the products tested

Greenery ' s composting process. It

in the

should be noted , however, that our testing methodology necessitated removal of the compostable item prior to each windrow's turning with the Scarab. In actuality , sever- al of these products would likely have de-

composed more completely if they were sub- jected to the mechan i cal forces of the compost turner agitating the pile. In conclusion, this study is not the end of

the Greenery's relationship with compostable products , but rather the beginning . Although the above results may be extrapolated to in- dicate what might happen in a static aerated pile composting system, the actual conditions at the Greenery were not mimicked. The ESD

to limited actual testing of

products in the agitated windrow process to determine how much a factor the test condi- tions (i.e. isolating products in onion sacks) were in retarding degradation. From June 15 to July 5 , 31 tons of post and preconsumer food waste from the San Diego County Fair-

is now moving

complete with paper plates, wax coated paper cups and PLA cold cups - were accepted. •

Stay tuned for more


Paige Hailey is an Administrative Intern at the City of San Diego's Miramar Greenery.