Composting experts have developed verbiage for possible legislation that states could use to limit claims made on plastic product packaging.

The model law would make it illegal to sell plastic packaging or products labeled as “compostable” without evidence to prove it, and advocates hope states around the country will adopt the legal language, which was modeled off California legislation, to prevent deceptive product labeling.

The model law was approved by the nonprofit group U.S. Composting Council last November and was drafted by a volunteer committee working within the group.

“There are items on the marketplace that are labeled as compostable or biodegradable or other variations on that and do not pass a certified inspection,” said Cary Oshins, director of education at the U.S. Composting Council. “We need to be able to go after folks who are making false claims in a more streamlined manner.”

As currently constructed, the law would apply to food and beverage packaging, plastic films and various other consumer plastic products, including paperboard. It would only allow plastics to be labeled “compostable,” “marine degradable” or “home compostable” if they meet specific standards for those forms of degradability. Specifically, the labels “compostable” and “marine compostable” would need to meet ASTM standard specifications for those concepts, and the claim “home compostable” would need to receive Vincotte “OK Compost HOME” certification. The model law would ban the terms “biodegradable,” “degradable” and “decomposable,” except when applied to agricultural mulch films.

In addition, the model law establishes a complaint-driven enforcement system that composters could use to target manufacturers and suppliers of mislabeled plastics.
“They’re the ones who are ultimately left with the problem that the non-compostable plastics presents,” Oshins said.

The model law would also establish requirements for how the products are labeled. In the case of bags, it establishes requirements for bag colors and the size and color of text, so they are easily identifiable. Oshins anticipates compost advocates may see pushback on those requirements.

“The manufacturers really don’t like being told what color, what size fonts, those kinds of details,” Oshins said.

The U.S. Composting Council will rely on state associations and its state chapters to press state lawmakers to introduce the legislation.