What You Need to Know about Washington’s Plastic Product Degradability Law

Consumers today want a lot from their favorite brands. They want good food at a good price, and they want to feel good about how their purchases impact the environment. Now, most consumers think of recycling as their go-to sustainability choice, but, in many cases, commercially compostable packaging can be a better choice.

Composting diverts waste away from landfills and gives them a meaningful second life as nutrient-rich compost. Commercially compostable packaging makes that possible, providing a viable, and necessary, complement to recyclable packaging. Unfortunately, consumers often find it difficult to interpret compostable claims and are frequently confused by it.

In an attempt to clear up that confusion, the Washington legislature passed a bill, House Bill 1799, to clear up the confusion.

What Are Washington State’s Product Labeling Guidelines?

In 2022, the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1799, which created a host of new rules and regulations dictating how plastic compostable products could be marketed. The goal of the legislation is to cut down on misleading environmental claims and greenwashing for plastic products that claim to be compostable or biodegradable. At the same time, they wanted to reduce confusion by clearly marking and labeling compostable products. The bill authorizes the Washington Department of Ecology to implement the law.

Enforcement of these regulations begins July 1, 2024. If you don’t already have a plan for compliance, you will want to get one soon.

What Manufacturers and Suppliers Must Do

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, the Plastic Product Degradability Law applies to film bags, film products, food and non-food packaging, and food service products. In this blog, we’ll only discuss food packaging.

All plastic food packaging products and products lined with plastic that are labeled compostable, must:

  • Meet ASTM D6400 or ASTM D6868 or be made of wood
  • Disintegrate sufficiently during composting or undergo some level of biodegradation
  • Not impair the compost’s fertility or introduce toxic substances
  • Meet all labeling requirements for its class of product. Food packaging must be:
    • Readily and easily identifiable
    • Labeled with third-party certification logos
    • Labeled compostable
    • Partially colored or tinted green, beige, or brown, or have a 1/4″ thick band in one of those colors
    • Declared in the Department of Ecology’s database

To see the full list of requirements for compostable products, including film bags and film products, visit the Department of Ecology’s webpage about the law.

What Manufacturers and Suppliers Cannot Do

The law doesn’t just place requirements on manufacturers of compostable products. It also creates rules and recommendations on manufacturers and suppliers of non-compostable products.

They’re prohibited from using labeling that’s required of compostable products. Furthermore, they’re “discouraged” from using the color schemes required of compostable products or images that might confuse customers into thinking that the product is compostable. Lastly, they’re “encouraged” to use colors, labels, images, and terms that identify their products as recyclable, if applicable, or should go into the landfill.

What the Law Doesn’t Address

The intent of the law, as stated, is to reduce misleading environmental claims and greenwashing while encouraging the composting of compostable plastic products. This is a noble goal, but there’s another issue that must be worked out in order for this law to be successful—consumer education.

Many consumers are confused about how to compost products. In part, this is because of those misleading labels, but it’s not just because of misleading claims and greenwashing. It’s also because there’s a shortage of consumer education about the environmental claims themselves. According to a report published by Closed Loop and Biodegradable Products Institute:

  • Almost half (49%) of consumers find it difficult to distinguish between “compostable” and “biodegradable”
  • 50% of consumers believed they could compost packaging labeled as “made from plants,” even if those packages weren’t compostable
  • Nearly one-third of consumers said they’d put compostable packaging in the recycling bin

The BPI report suggested standardized terminology and labeling practices, which the Washington law attempts to do. But, the BPI report also recommends educational campaigns that will help consumers know how to properly dispose of compostable packaging. Time will tell if Washington creates such an education campaign to address the other half of the composting challenge.

How Inno-Pak Can Help You Navigate These Changes

At Inno-Pak, we work to understand laws like the one in Washington and to help affected businesses comply with regulations. We work with you to find a solution that works for you. Our commercially compostable products are certified by BPI and/or the Compost Manufacturing Alliance, and we’re working to bring applicable products into compliance with Washington’s law.

The legislative landscape is constantly shifting. You deserve a packaging partner who can help you navigate new laws and regulations not only this year but in future years. If you need one, feel free to reach out to us.