The Degradable Polymers Council should be commended for its important work in recommending standards for use of the terms ``biodegradable'' and ``compostable'' in connection with the marketing of plastic bags.
As more and more states ban the disposal of organic wastes in landfills, composting will grow as an alternative waste disposal strategy. Compost operators are determined to rid their sites of conventional plastic bags.
Compostable material delivered in conventional plastic bags requires debagging. Since debagging is only 75 percent effective under the best circumstances, polyethylene residues contaminate the compost and lower its sale value substantially. This is the reason behind the growing number of ordinances and regulations banning plastic bags from composting sites.
Biodegradable plastic bags and liners are the most efficient and, more importantly, a very cost-effective solution to the collection of organic wastes for composting. Consequently, we can expect to see many self-proclaimed ``biodegradable'' bags come onto the market. The question is, will these bags be, in fact, biodegradable?
The DPC recognized, based on events at the beginning of the decade, that there is an ``imperative need for a uniform definition to avoid confusion among end users and regulators.'' The DPC standards are largely based on the strict standards that have been adopted in Europe, where polyethylene composite materials do not meet the standards for biodegradability and compostability.
What inevitably must follow the adoption of a uniform standard definition of biodegradable and compostable is a nationally recognized and accepted certification procedure that will allow appropriately tested and certified products to bear a seal or logo attesting to biodegradability and compostability. The U.S. Composting Council has expressed an interest in undertaking this project. Its work need to be supported.
Until a widely accepted seal or logo program is developed, we can still expect to see questionable and false claims of biodegradability and compostability. According to Plastic News' article about the DPC standards (``Council sets rules for biodegradable bags,'' March 2, Page 13), DPC Vice Chairman Graham Chapman of Novon International Inc. said all DPC member companies should be able to meet the guideline.
Novon was one of the leading manufacturers of polyethylene starch composite resins.
Bags made from those Novon resins were being advertised as biodegradable. But there is absolutely no way a bag made from the Novon PE/starch resin could satisfy the DPC standard. A nationally accepted seal is the only practical way to enforce standards adopted by the DPC.
Redondo Beach, Calif.