“CMA-approved” compostables & the changing composting landscape

Tear Top Shape

Published January 12th, 2024

Change has been the norm lately in our region’s composting industry! Denver city council passed its Pay As You Throw policy, which in 2023 essentially made compost pickup free and accessible to every single-family home in Denver and will dramatically increase the city’s waste diversion. Then, Denver voters passed the Waste No More ordinance, which starting this year (2024) will require all businesses (this includes multi-family apartments and condominiums as well) and all events in the City & County of Denver to provide composting and recycling. And these are just two major examples among many changes in our industry that have occurred, are in process or are expected soon!

Many of these changes – especially requirements for composting, which dramatically increase the volume of compostable materials in the system, as well as the risk of contamination – have highlighted some of the constraints and bottlenecks in our regional composting sector. One of the key constraints is the lack of enough processing capacity, or compost facilities, to effectively absorb all of this material. Another is the lack of robust education & awareness among the general public, especially regarding the need to prevent non-compostable contaminants from entering the compost stream – and the lack of companies as dedicated as Scraps to educating our customers on this and other fronts. 🙂

This led to widespread changes this past spring in what folks were allowed to put in their compost bins – an effort by the state’s larger processors and haulers to minimize contamination – effectively restricting folks to just food waste and yard debris. No previously accepted compostable packaging, compostable bags (except a few approved brands, in only 3-gallon sizes), or compostable paper products were allowed in the stream.

Because of our size, our relationship with processors, and our dedication to educating and supporting our customers, Scraps was able to avoid most of these dramatic changes. However, one major change we’ve had to commit to: we no longer accept compostable products & packaging that are simply BPI certified, which has been the norm and standard for many years. Instead, we can only accept products and packaging that are CMA-approved.

Think of approval by CMA – which stands for the Compost Manufacturing Alliance – as a guarantee that a product will actually, effectively decompose in our region’s composting facilities. That’s because CMA approval is based on actual decomposition tests in actual CMA member sites. Certification by BPI, by contrast, is only based on laboratory testing – which does not always equal effective decomposition into finished compost. Moreover, and importantly to our industry, CMA-approved products are PFAS free; more on that topic in another post.

While CMA approval is still not as widely recognized as BPI, and does not yet carry a required, widely recognized seal, there are thousands of CMA-approved products acceptable in your Scraps bin. Working closely with CMA, we’ve created a database of CMA-approved products that our Scraps members can put in their bins. We also work closely with our commercial members especially to ensure they know how to identify and source these products, and how to work with any vendors, subcontractors, tenants or partners in their spaces to avoid contamination, and to avoid ordering non-approved products.

As for reliable sourcing: we always recommend that our members turn to our favorite long-time friends and partners at EP Distribution, another locally-owned company like us, and by far the most reliable and educated distributor in the region for compostable and sustainable products.

EPD even has created its own database of CMA-approved products that they carry locally! Scraps members & friends can even get their own personal login to EPD’s database of CMA-approved inventory, by visiting this link, clicking “Have Trouble Logging In,” and then mentioning in the form that you are a Scraps customer or Scraps referral. The folks at EPD will then give you login access! EPD is continuously adding products to their CMA-approved inventory.

Despite the sometimes frustrating, confusing or uncomfortable adjustments, we believe things are moving in a good direction. In time, we expect to see a paradigm where CMA approval is widespread, more visible and recognizable to the consumer, and the new standard for compostable packaging and products – helping ensure a reduction in contamination, an increase in effective decomposition in all compost settings, and a more robust regional composting market.

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