sustainable industries

Seattle’s Compostable Dishware Surge: Navigating Standards and Sustainability

In a remarkable shift towards environmental sustainability, the Seattle market has witnessed a staggering 900 percent growth in compostable dishware products within a span of fewer than three years. This surge can be attributed to a groundbreaking law implemented on July 1, 2010, mandating that restaurants exclusively utilize recyclable or compostable single-use items. The aim is to combat the annual disposal of over 6,000 tons of plastic dishware into landfills.

Despite the positive impact on waste reduction, the lack of a unified standard for compostable dishware is posing challenges within the burgeoning compostable packaging industry. In Seattle, these products must not only be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) but also meet additional criteria set by Cedar Grove Composting, the largest composting facility in the Northwest.

This stands in contrast to San Francisco’s approach, where compostable products must undergo testing and certification by BPI. Jack Macy, commercial zero waste coordinator for San Francisco’s Department of Environment, notes that earlier attempts at in-house testing were inconclusive, prompting a reliance on BPI’s standardized assessments.

Susan Thoman, Director of Corporate and Business Development at Cedar Grove, raises concerns about BPI tests, emphasizing that lab conditions may not accurately represent the dynamics of Cedar Grove’s facilities. The company conducts its own composting process evaluation to ensure compatibility.

A recent survey conducted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, titled “Compostable Packaging: The Reality on the Ground,” reveals that 37.5 percent of 40 nationwide facilities accepting food waste require BPI certification. Moreover, 20 percent conduct onsite testing before accepting compostable products.

Cedar Grove, based in Everett, Washington, manages the compost from Seattle’s yard waste, food scraps, and various commercial facilities, showcasing a rapid throughput that results in over 200,000 yards of compost annually, available through retailers like Home Depot and Fred Meyer.

Manufacturers, already grappling with production cost increases of 18 percent to 37 percent to meet diverse standards, face additional hurdles in adopting compostable technology. The lack of a national standard utilizing BPI as its foundation adds complexity. In response, Adam Hyde, a senior consultant at Bluetree Strategies, is collaborating with StalkMarket, a compostable container manufacturer, to establish a standardized framework addressing both product compostability and the quality of compost generated.

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