Something Rotten in the Compost Bin

medium_laurel3.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

For people who are obsessive recyclers and composters, it’s very annoying when organic matter refuses to cooperate. Instead of rotting quietly away in the depths of the bin, things like avocado skins and lemons just sit there, defiant and unchanging. No matter how long you leave them, they just don’t biodegrade. Almost as annoying are the labels applied to fruit and vegetables, which generally do not rot down with the rest of the peels. If they’re stuck on an orange or an avocado skin they burn well enough. But if they are on the skin of something that otherwise does biodegrade, such as a banana or pear, the labels can accumulate. For people with a penchant for compost and who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, this is very frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Xeikon has told us about a Dutch company called Bio4Life which has a label material that is completely compostable. At the recent LabelExpo in Chicago, Bio4Life won the Label Industry Global Awards sustainability prize. Its compostable labels are designed for fruit and vegetable labelling and for packaging and other adhesive label applications. The secret is in the BioTAK adhesive Bio4Life uses on its labels.

Bio4Life labels are made of completely compostable materials including the facestock material which can be paper, NatureFlex™ or PLA (polylactic acid, a biodegradeable corn based film), and the BioTak adhesive. BioTak was originally developed some ten years ago by Sustainable Adhesive Products, in cooperation with Berkshire Labels in the UK. Berkshire Labels took the product to market and achieved some important certifications such as for using the adhesive in nondirect contact labels. About three years ago Bio4Life bought a major shareholding in Sustainable Adhesive Products and has since further developed BioTak.

BioTak complies with EN13432 a European standard that defines what characteristics a material must have if it is to be considered compostable. Since taking on its development, Bio4Life has gained more approvals including for direct food contact. This means that BioTak labels can be applied direct to foods such as cheese or cakes so it can be used in a much wider range of self-adhesive label applications. Worldwide there aren’t many organisations with standards and testing methods for how well things compost, but there are a couple besides the European outfit. DIN in Germany and ASTM in the USA have established standards that specify biodegradation criteria and ecotoxicity levels. There is also ISO 14855 which specifies criteria just for biodegradation. More standards bodies should be working in this area not just to satisfy local market needs, but to encourage greater awareness and uptake of composting. It’s a rotten job, but we should all be doing it! You can find out more about Bio4life here: http://bio4life.nl/products/compostable-labels/

– Laurel Brunner

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