Savannah Seydel, VP of Sustainability / 5 Minute Read
Recently, BioCycle, a publication on the compost industry, worked with the Composting Consortium to release part one of a four-part series showcasing various food waste composting infrastructure statistics. The publication provides up-to-date and data on composting infrastructure in the U.S. The BioCycle study focused on full-scale composting facilities that accept 2,000+ tons per year. 230 food waste composting facilities were identified with data collected on 200 of these sites. This did not include the thousands of on-site community gardens, K-12, college and university, correctional facilities, resorts, or hospital composting programs across the country. Read the full report, here. Here are key takeaways from the publication: Facilities First, some good news! There’s been a small but noticeable increase in full-scale composting facilities that accept food waste in the United States over the last five years. Total facilities have grown from 185 to 200, representing an 8% rise. What encompasses this growth? The majority of facilities are small and independently operated, demonstrating the continued momentum in the community composting movement. Almost half of this infrastructure is concentrated within the following states: CA (35), NY (14), CO (13), PA (10), WA (9), TX (9), and NC (9). This means there are still several “composting deserts,” meaning no full-scale composting operations are present. Those deserts include Alabama, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Food Waste And then some bad news. Today’s composting infrastructure only processes up to 4% of the 66 million tons of total food waste generated annually in the US (Source: EPA). Here are a few reasons why::
More and more food waste is being processed at anaerobic digestion facilities, which is data not captured here.
There continues to be some reluctance by yard trimmings composting operations to accept food waste due to concerns about perceived odors from organics and contamination from conventional plastics.
Facilities in a lower permitting tier are limited on the annual tons of food waste they can accept.
Today’s composting infrastructure only processes up to 4% of the 66 million tons of total food waste generated annually in the United States
Compostable Packaging But of the facilities that do accept food waste, a majority also take compostable packaging (71%), which is up from 58% in 2018. This same trend lines up for certified compostable food-contact bioplastics. 62% of participating facilities now accept bioplastics, up from 48% in 2018. That means that more and more composters are realizing the value of compostable packaging to help create a clean stream, reduce waste to landfill, and divert more food waste to compost piles. The survey attributed this growth in acceptance to growing trust in third-party certifications like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA), of which a majority of composters (45) required BPI-certification for any incoming compostables. Here’s a deeper dive into what kinds of packaging composters are accepting today:
Top Reasons Why Composters Don’t Want Food-Contact Packaging: So what’s still causing hesitancy? Mainly contamination from lookalike plastics. 78% of participants cited this as their top concern. And in a market overrun with greenwashing confusing consumers (biodegradable…oxo-biodegradable…natural…?), it’s easy to understand why. Thankfully, states are taking action to address the problem by implementing “Truth in Labeling” laws. This kind of legislation streamlines and standardizes labeling for compostable packaging to help consumers more easily identify it, and bans confusing and misleading environmental marketing claims.
Survey attributed the growth in acceptance of compostable packaging to the growing trust in third-party certifications
Advocacy Composting is growing to meet today’s demand, but it could always grow faster. Here are just a few ways all of us can help accelerate composting infrastructure - whether that be at home, at work or in front of your city council! Public Policy
Reach out to your representatives in Congress and share your support for smart legislation like the COMPOST Act, the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act, and other regenerative agriculture policies in the upcoming Farm Bill.
Is your city considering a single-use plastic ban? Raise your voice to help ensure there is funding and infrastructure planning in place to manage the higher volume of compostable packaging.
Opportunities in the PrivateSector
Advocate for composting services at your office as a sustainability service and benefit for employees
Manage investments? Direct funds towards the development of commercial-scale composting infrastructure.
Or work in foodservice? Advocate for switching to 100% compostable packaging to reduce your organization’s dependence on petroleum-based single-use plastics and reduce contamination in the compost bin.
Ideas at Home We do not need to wait on large facilities to be funded, permitted, and then built, if everyone starts composting in their backyard. Start and manage a composting pile at your apartment complex, community garden, place of worship, child’s school, or other gathering places in your community. Or ign up for a local community composting service in your city.
Got a movie night on the books? If you’ve got a full evening, watch and share Kiss the Ground’s full-length film on Netflix to learn about soil health and regenerative agriculture solutions. (And check out the sequel, The Common Ground, at a theater near you!).
Or if you only have a few minutes, watch and share Kiss the Ground’s short clip: The Compost Story
Earth Pulse is an advocacy blog produced by Better Earth. It is intended to help inform and educate about the urgent issues around sustainability, the environment, and social justice, through posts from a variety of authors.