Maybe your family is at the county fair, joyfully devouring the local dairy booth’s hand-churned cherry ice cream you’ve waited a full year to taste. Perhaps you’re treating yourself to an afternoon cold brew at your local coffee shop before taking a quiet stroll along Main Street. The story likely ends with you holding plastic spoons, straws, or cups that are labeled “compostable,” “biodegradable,” or maybe say nothing at all. You want to do the right thing, but the recycling world can be a confusing place, and your kids roll their eyes at you anytime you even look at the wrong disposal bin.
HB 1033 seeks to help you with this all-too-common dilemma by establishing Stakeholder Advisory Committee (Committee) that would make recommendations to the legislature on developing standards to manage compostable plastic products, identify how we can meet Washington’s organics management goals, all the while ensuring compost remains clean and marketable. The Committee, facilitated by a third party contracted by the Department of Ecology, will be comprised of members of public and private agencies, including representatives from urban, rural, small, and large counties.
Composting facilities across the state take yard waste, food waste, and other vegetative waste and create nutrient-rich, valuable compost. By monitoring and controlling heat, moisture, oxygen, and composition, these facilities have been very thoughtfully designed with the goals of efficiency and a clean, marketable product in mind.
The rise of compostable or biodegradable plastics created an input many of these systems are not prepared to handle. They often require a process different from how many of our organics are currently managed. While they enter the composting facility mixed with our branches, leaves, orange peels, and apple cores, they often emerge at the end, largely in the same condition they started in. While everything else has become compost, sometimes in as little as 30 days, the remaining plastics are now considered contaminated and need to be screened out before being used or sold.
Counties would benefit in several ways from the Committees’ work. By studying the problem and establishing recommended strategies to manage compostable plastic properly, the efforts counties and their residents put into diverting food from our landfill will still result in a compost that is clean and marketable. These strategies will also guarantee that counties can confidently use this compost in public works projects. Lastly, the Committee’s reports will, hopefully, identify ways to realize the benefits compostable plastics can have in reducing pollution, and waste and eliminate the ire of consumer confusion that leaves us clutching plastics in our clenched fists, screaming our indignance to the skies.
WSAC, Policy Analyst