Compostability testing now available
WIST tests packaging biodegradability
A new service offered by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology will help packaging manufacturers meet the growing demand for environmentally friendly materials.
Paul Fowler, WIST executive director, said the institute has developed a test that determines how well packaging decomposes under industrial composting conditions.
“It’s a new service targeted at the compostable packaging industry, to help them understand the biodegradability profile of their packaging,” Fowler said. “With that information, they may make certain claims regarding compostability in their marketing.”
Compostable materials can be diverted from landfills and the compost put to productive use, yielding a double environmental gain.
Compostable packaging is becoming more important, particularly in the food industry. For one thing, packaging contaminated with food or composed of several different types of material is difficult to recycle. Compostability provide a useful alternative solution. At the same time, consumers are increasingly aware of environmental impacts and companies have an opportunity to gain market share by addressing consumer concerns.
Regulatory change is adding to the demand for biodegradable packaging. Some communities, such as Seattle, have banned from landfills single-use food packaging, napkins, beverage cups and related items. Those must be composted or recycled. And the push to divert food waste from landfills has created a market for “bio bags” – biodegradable bags used to collect food waste. The bag and food waste can all be tossed in the compost bin.
Paper products typically require additional coatings or other modifications to perform well as food containers, and that affects how well they decompose. Manufacturers are scrambling to develop compostable packaging, but only a handful of labs currently offer testing in the U.S., Fowler said. WIST sees an opportunity to meet an industry need.
“It’s a natural fit for our laboratory capabilities at WIST and UWSP, and our goal of developing new, sustainable technologies,” Fowler said.
The service is particularly timely, given the October 2012 publication by the Federal Trade Commission of revised “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly called the Green Guides. The guides outline how companies may advertise environmental attributes of their products.
WIST’s testing protocol is designed to meet US standards for compostability. The testing protocol includes three stages: a disintegration trial, plant seed germination trial, and biodegradability trial. It takes a minimum of 120 days to complete the full protocol.
The disintegration trial tests how well the material will break down in a stable environment. The plant germination trial determines how well the material will germinate seeds. Finally, in a biodegradability trial, the material being tested is placed in a sealed vessel, and instruments record the amount of CO2 generated. CO2 is produced during decomposition and release of CO2 is then compared to that of cellulose decomposition. Cellulose is what paper and paperboard is typically made of, and provides a baseline for compostability comparison.
For more information about WIST’s compostability testing service, contact Fowler by phone at 715-346-3767 or by email at Paul.Fowler@uwsp.edu