At a popular Portland grocery store recently, we were not prepared to grocery shop, so did not have our mesh produce bags. What they had instead were bags that claim to be compostable. The label says very little except that they are made from “genuine material,” or some such thing, and that the substance is called “Crown Poly,” which suggests a plastic or some sort. I was not convinced, so I inquired of the companies that pick up compostables in Brunswick area to see if they really were compostable in their systems.

I got a very quick response from the folks Garbage to Garden that says they definitely can take those bags, and anything which has been certified as “compostable” or “compostable in a commercial/industrial facility” by the Biodegradable Products Institute. The goal of that organization is “to establish consistent, category-specific identification guidelines that make it easy for consumers, composters and others to identify compostable products and packaging, with the goals of reducing contamination, facilitating food scrap composting programs and decreasing landfill methane production.” It’s a worthy goal we heartily endorse!

The Crown Poly bags are made from vegetable starches and compostable resin polymers that break down in about 180 days in commercial composting facilities. I suspect that means a much longer time in a backyard composter or leaf pile, so I don’t recommend putting the bags there, but in the commercial operation at Garbage to Garden, they will decompose nicely.

We do not want to put these bags into the recycling bin because they will clog the sorting equipment like any other non-rigid container. We also do not want to put them in with the bags we return to the grocery store because they are not Type 4 plastic film, not compatible with the rest of the films they collect for us. That makes them either compost or trash.

Bamboo has also recently become popular for products that can not otherwise be recycled, and are promoted in the Litterless.com website. At least in our current system, they unfortunately also cannot be recycled. Most of the available literature suggests bamboo utensils, toothbrushes, etc. can be composted, but not recycled. That may yet become an option for us in the Brunswick area, but it is NOT an option for the backyard composter, because the composting bin does not generate high enough temperatures to break down the treated bamboo. In my backyard composter, a set of eating utensils sat for a year with no effect on them whatsoever. Local commercial composters also do not take bamboo products because they are not nearly as compostable as the producers would have us believe.

The Recycle Bin is a weekly column on what to recycle, what not to recycle, and why, in Brunswick. The public is encouraged to submit questions by email to [email protected]. Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee.

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