Bagasse usually refers to agricultural fibers that would often be considered “waste” as the byproduct for production of other materials. Sugarcane, pineapple, banana, and avocado pits are common examples that can be used for paper, clothing, bioplastic, and so on.
Labeling — FTC states, “Unless marketers have substantiation for all their express and reasonably implied claims, they should clearly and prominently qualify their renewable materials claims. For example, marketers may minimize the risk of unintended implied claims by identifying the material used and explaining why the material is renewable. Marketers should also qualify any ‘‘made with renewable materials’’ claim unless the product or package (excluding minor, incidental components) is made entirely with renewable materials.”
‐ Renewable –
Plastics made from petroleum or natural gas. They require more fossil fuels and leave a larger carbon footprint. While some are recyclable, it’s important to remember that the majority do not make it to recycling plans
‐ Petroleum-based Plastics –
WHAT — Defined by the United States Secretary of Agriculture in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 as follows, “The term ‘‘biobased product’’ means a product determined by the Secretary to be a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials) or forestry materials OR an intermediate feedstock.”
LABELING — FTC defers to the USDA here, which states products must be composed in whole or in significant part, of biological products. The USDA BIOPREFERRED program in turn refers to ASTM standards for certifying products “Biobased”.
WATCH OUT — They can sometimes contain a percentage of petroleum-based resins, which can leave behind those nasty micro-plastics or other contaminants after they degrade. But they are still a step in the right direction away from 100% petroleum-based plastic.
‐ Biobased –
WHAT — “Capable of being reprocessed after use for the purpose of using again instead of wasting; capable of producing fresh material from previously used material that was discarded after use”
UNDERSTAND — Some materials (paper, for example) can only be recycled a few times before they degrade too far to be useful; some products (plastic-coated paper for example) cannot be recycled because the component materials are too expensive to separate.” In the case of the latter, think heavily coated to-go coffee cups.
UH-OH — No recycling facility? Then off to the landfill it goes!
LABELING — FTC states “A product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item.” Refer to RIC and How2Recycle symbols, when present.
WATCH OUT — They can not be contaminated with food (like the inside of a greasy pizza box or an unwashed deli quart container). The How2Recycle label comes in really handy here, because it gives general instructions like “Rinse before recycling”.
‐ Recyclable –
FIRST OFF — Just know that all compostable items are considered biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable.
WHAT — Items are able to break down into useful compost, a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.
REQUIRES — They require a composting facility or machine to function, where-in specific conditions (heat, oxygen, water) are produced to help fast forward the degradation. No composting facility? Then it just gets thrown out with the rest of the regular ol’ garbage.
LABELING — FTC states that the material must break down to or become part of usable compost in a safe and timely manner in composting facilities. BPI-certified compostable goes the extra mile, stating the products HAVE to compost in under 180 days (6 months) in most composting facilities and that the degradation of these materials do not diminish the value or utility of the finished compost.
WATCH OUT — Not every composting facility accepts every item labeled “compostable”. You need to refer to your your local facility.
DOUBLE WATCH OUT — Some items can be compostable AND recyclable. But you can NOT recycle certified compostable plastic items unless they also have a RIC or How2Recycle symbol AND your facility accepts them.
‐ Compostable –
WHAT — Items capable of being broken down by biological means, such as microorganisms, light, marine environments, air, etc. This can happen pretty much anywhere!
UNDERSTAND — “Technically, almost all materials are biodegradable, since with enough time, some microorganisms can decompose almost anything. For example… aluminum cans biodegrade in the ocean in about 175 years, and hard plastic bottle caps biodegrade in the ocean in about 400 years.” -World Centric
LABELING — FTC only dictates that biodegradable products will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customer disposal. There are no time constraints on degradation. There are also no restrictions if an item leaves behind toxins, contaminants and chemicals after it breaks down.
WATCH OUT — Biodegradable packaging without any clear icons or certification should NOT be composted.
‐ Biodegradable –
The term carbon footprint is a shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.
Carbon footprint is measured in weight of CO2E or carbon dioxide equivalent, a term for describing different greenhouse gases (such as Nitrogen, Methane, Carbon Dioxide) in a common unit.
When you can, PURCHASE IN BULK! Less deliveries = lower carbon footprint.
‐ Carbon Footprint –
How2Recycle a new-ish labeling system that aims to clearly communicate general recycling instructions.
‐ How2Recycle –
ASTM’s Resin Identification Codes (RIC) are a plastic labeling system that indicates the type of plastic an item is made from. They do NOT necessarily indicate how recyclable an item is. Recycling centers differ and you should defer to what your local system tells you they will accept.
‐ Resin Identification Codes (RIC) –
The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides provide marketing guidelines and have helped to uphold rulings against products with false claims. The FTC Green Guides are often more general, compared to ASTM. Marketing lingo is sometimes designed to only satisfy (i.e. get by) FTC standards, which is why qualified third party certifications (like BPI) with rigorous standards can help you avoid confusion.
‐ FTC Green Guides –
BPI is the most common third party certification label for compostable materials. They refer to ASTM standards.
‐ Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) –
ASTM International is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. Their rigorous standards are what most third-party certifications (like BPI) refer to.