The French Food Agency recommends a ban on home compostable plastics

More than one in three French recycle their waste in home or communal composters. In addition to peeling vegetables, some people throw away plastic waste, especially single-use plastic bags called “biodegradable” or “compostable”. However, complete degradation of such materials in composters is not guaranteed. The use of compost can therefore pose a risk to both people and the environment. Therefore, ANSES – the French Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety Agency, recommends that no plastics should be placed in home compost bins.

Among the plastic packaging and everyday products available on the market, some are referred to as “biosourced”, “biodegradable” or even “compostable”. Combining different concepts, these designations can lead to confusion:

  • bio-based plastics are made from natural resources, such as corn starch, for example, with no minimum natural resource content; single-use plastics must contain at least 50% of material of natural origin
  • biodegradable plastics meet this standard if they degrade under the influence of microorganisms
  • compostable plastics are biodegradable plastics that decompose under certain composting conditions (temperature, humidity), both industrial and domestic; according to current standards, these materials must be degraded to more than 90%, within a maximum of 6 or 12 months, depending on whether it is industrial or domestic composting.

Manufacturers who claim their products are “organic, biodegradable or compostable” have no guarantee that these plastics will completely degrade in home composters, especially since their operating conditions are difficult to control. Therefore, when a person spreads compost in his vegetable garden to grow e.g. vegetables, contamination of the environment or local crops cannot be ruled out.

“This contamination can come from various components of the materials or from microplastics formed as a result of their degradation. The components in question may be polymers, residual monomers, additives or inorganic fillers that pose a potential risk to both human health and the environment,” explains Stéphane Leconte, Expertise Coordinator at ANSES.

Therefore, ANSES recommends that no plastics, even those labeled “biodegradable” and/or “compostable”, be placed in home and community composters. To minimize environmental pollution, ANSES recommends, as with all other packaging, to prefer the collection, sorting and/or treatment of biodegradable and compostable bio-sourced and compostable plastic materials.

In addition, ANSES calls for the prohibition of any allusions or even calls to put plastics in home compost, recommending a modification of the regulations.

ANSES is also calling for a review of the system that regulates industrial and home composting. It proposes to establish a single standard that includes the assessment of biodegradability in all environmental media and to establish more stringent criteria, such as the absence of endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, mutagens or substances toxic to reproduction.

The Agency recommends that the use of this new standard for the composting of plastic products and articles intended to be biodegradable or compostable should be made mandatory in all sectors where they are used, not just for packaging.


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