Compostable Plastic Bags

Posted by — April 15, 2011 8:08 am

Across the U.S. and many other countries, plastic bag bans are being passed, and many more are being proposed, in many municipalities and counties.  Currently, several states have pending legislation to pass single-use bag bans statewide.

As time goes on, more and more of the legislation and ordinances are banning not only plastic bags but also paper bags.  The term ‘single-use bags’ is most often used now and clearly denotes paper or plastic bags that are designed to be used once or twice and then tossed.  Plastic and paper bags also fall under the term ‘disposable’ which simply means that the bags are not permanent, or for permanent use.

Most ordinances promote replacing single-use bags with reusable bags.  However, a few also allow compostable plastic bags to be used in place of single-use bags or disposable bags.  Compostable plastic bags are considered to be an acceptable answer to solving the environmental hazards of single-use bags.

However, as noted by Ben Feldman, Ecology Center Market Manager for Berkley Farmers Market, “While we consider the compostable bags to be better than plastic, they still require natural resources and energy to produce.” It’s a big step in the right direction but they’re ultimately not the way to go.”  Berkley Farmers Market in Berkley, California used compostable bags as a ‘transition’ bag when converting from plastic bags to reusable bags.

Many times, when we think of compostable bags, we think they can be composted in our backyard composting station.  Not true in this case.  When ordinances require compostable bags, the bags are required to meet standards known as ASTM 6400.(1)  ASTM D6400-04 is the standard for compostable plastic bags.

ASTM D6400-04 clearly states that the specifications were developed for composting in a commercial or industrial composting facility.  Compostable plastic bags cannot be composted in a backyard composting facility.

Therefore, when ordinances require compostable bags, a commercial or industrial aerobic facility must be readily available to handle the volume surge in compostable bags.

Compostable bags are an alternative, but a less desirable alternative considering compostable bags have a higher cost (4) and there are fewer facilities to compost the bags.



(2)   U S Composting Council

Courtesy of

(3)   Biodegradable Products Institute