Using more science to eliminate “compostable” hype

January 13, 2012

In a move that promises to elevate the level of scientific testing to the compostable or debate, the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) has selected NSF International, a global independent public health organization, to administer the BPI's Certified Compostable program.  NSF International is a global third-party, independent certification organization that will accept and review certification requests to ensure that all BPI-certified products continue to meet ASTM 6400 or ASTM D6868 standards for compostability, according a release from BPI.

Companies submit products and testing data to substantiate the biodegradation, disintegration and absence of eco-toxicity of their products including compostable bags, foodservice items, packaging materials, and other consumer products. NSF will then verify manufacturers' claims of compostability in large-scale composting facilities, said information from BPI. There has been a five-fold increase in compostable plastic product certifications since 2006, noted BPI, and NSF will help alleviate the bottle-neck.certified compostable

NSF International will administer the BPI program through its NSF Sustainability division, which provides testing and verification of environmental claims for consumer products, green chemicals, sustainable furnishing and building materials such as carpet, flooring and fabrics. NSF also provides process verification services, which include greenhouse gas verification, environmental foot-printing, and environmental management systems, said a release from NSF.

Overwhelming volume of certification requests

Cheryl Navarro, project manager for NSF, who will be managing the BPI program, told PlasticsToday that interest and inquiries for BPI's certification has grown so much that BPI couldn't handle the volume. "They are interested in strengthening their program," she said. "Some of the labs they currently use are ISO 17025 certified, however for those that are not currently ISO 17025 certified, we're working with them to help them get that certification. However, it will remain the BPI's certification."  

Partnering with NSF means that the BPI certification program will comply with the requirements of ISO Guide 65, the internationally recognized standard for third-party certifications bodies. After certification, manufacturers, authorized distributors and resellers may then license the BPI's "Compostable Logo" for marketing claims, said BPI.

The new service agreement is designed to bolster the credibility and capability of the 10-year-old BPI "Compostable Logo" program, which has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, according to BPI's information. "By partnering with NSF, the BPI certification program will also comply with the requirements of ISO Guide 65, the internationally recognized standard for third-party certification bodies," said BPI's release.

Certifying the certifiers

David S. Brooks, BPI Certification Program Administrator, said in an interview with PlasticsToday that BPI operates as "double-high bar" to ensure that testing by materials and products manufacturers is done correctly and by certified testing labs. "The labs that BPI has certified have been physically visited and certified by us or one of our academic members," Brooks said.  

This elevated level of certification by NSF to ensure test results will add a layer of protection against fraud. "There's so much pseudo-science out there, such as additives that are supposed to magically transform any plastic into a biodegradable material and ASTM standards used incorrectly that unless you have an independent organization verifying those tests, you can have unscrupulous people putting out products that aren't what they claim," Brooks said. "If there's a question about the testing or if the tests are incomplete or their material doesn't disintegrate in a timely fashion, we work with them to make sure the tests are accurate before we give them the 'Compostable Logo.'  BPI was formed to bring science and rationality into these discussions and we do enforce our certification process."

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