Plastic in Compost

It doesn’t take much plastic in compost to degrade its value. As composters, we would love to mandate that any organic material coming to a compost facility be free of plastic. For food scraps recycling, this becomes a challenge as the use of plastic bags makes it tidier for homeowners to recycle their food scraps. Some communities are encouraging the use of compostable bags. The stated risk with using compostable plastic bags is that it may lead to users hiding plastic waste or other contaminants in the bags. The Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC) has recently published a working paper entitled “Best Practices for Multi-Family Food Scraps Collection” It is available at http://rcbc.bc.ca/files/u7/policy_110207_mforganicsreport.pdf.

Most of the world does not have the luxury of dictating that plastics be removed from organic waste before composting. This means that as composters, and compost technology suppliers, we are left with the challenge of removing plastics from compost. The technology already exists whereby plastic present in organic waste during the composting process poses minimal process concern. It is also well understood that removing plastic after the composting process is simpler and more effective than trying to separate film plastic from wet sticky organic waste. There are many who are working on the challenge of effectively separating plastic from compost.

This week I had the privilege of seeing creative thought and ingenuity come together in a new plastics removal system for compost. The Plastovac 6000 system is a second generation plastics removal system developed by Garret Gillespie, an agricultural engineer who was faced with removing plastic from the compost in Whitehorse. I watched this unit at a food scrap composting facility and I was very impressed with the design, the components, and the performance.

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