Companies have been labeling products as “compostable” when they’re actually not. But that practice could soon end because of higher composting standards under a bill approved by the Legislature and sent to the Governor late yesterday. AB 1201, the Better Composting Standards Act by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), tightens the rules on what can be identified as compostable to prevent contamination, which threatens composting programs.
“Consumers and businesses are being deceived into thinking they’re buying the right products to conserve resources and reduce their environmental impact. Some are labeled as compostable, even when they contain harmful chemicals that contaminate our compost, consequently making that compost unusable,” said Ting. “We must be clearer on what is acceptable for composting and ensure that our compost doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.”
Composting is a way to fight climate change by diverting food and other natural waste away from landfills; once decayed, it can be added to soil, improving its quality. Fields that use compost tend to have higher yields. But the presence of PFAS, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, contaminates composting bins. These “forever chemicals” are often used as a grease barrier in food packaging, for example, but they’re toxic and unsuitable for composting – not to mention bad for our health. AB 1201 would:
- Ban products from being labeled “compostable” if they contain PFAS
- Require products marked “compostable” to meet established performance standards; meet California Department of Food and Agriculture’s organic standards; and be certified by a third-party
- Allows CalRecycle to adopt labeling regulations so consumers and composters can tell the difference between non-compostable and compostable products
“Returning valuable resources to the soil through composting is one of the most effective tools we have in the battle against climate change. While organics, such as food scraps and yard clippings, are obviously compostable, packaging is not as clear and can lead to contamination. Not only does AB 1201 enhance a compost manufacturer’s ability to produce something cleaner, but it also strengthens California’s circular economy that aims to repurpose waste,” said Neil Edgar of the California Compost Coalition, which sponsored the bill.
Ting’s related bill, AB 1200, approved Tuesday, complements AB 1201 by removing PFAS toxins from all food packaging. The Governor has until October 10 to act on all bills sent to him in the final weeks of session.