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If it says biodegradable, it might not be compostable

The latest on policies to clear your confusion and clean up our trash.

Washington state is getting new rules on compostable bags and cutlery under House Bill 1569, one of a handful of bills that passed in Olympia to clean up our trash, recycling and compost.

Right now, plastic bags, forks and spoons that don’t belong in the compost are masquerading as compostable by sporting misleading labels.

“All these products say biodegradable, eco-this, eco-that, and people are genuinely confused and they think it’s compostable and it’s not,” executive director of advocacy group Zero Waste Washington Heather Trim said.

As a result, plastics are ending up in the compost where they don’t belong. Cedar Grove spends over $5 million a year removing the waste, general counsel Jay Blazey testified before lawmakers.

After next July, if it’s not compostable, it can’t be the color green or brown, or bear terms such as "biodegradable," "degradable," and "decomposable."

Violations can be punished with a fine of $1,000 for the first offense. California, Minnesota and Maryland already have laws like this on the books.

This session, state lawmakers passed other bills to respond to problems in our recycling system. Last year China clamped down on importing recyclables from the U.S., spurring a crisis in the industry.

Under Senate Bill 5397, the state will begin collecting data on trash from plastic packaging for potential future legislation – a watered down version of a bill that originally would have required plastic packaging producers to participate in collecting waste from their products.

Under House Bill 1543, the state will establish a center at the state Department of Ecology to promote research on new markets for materials such as recycled paper and plastic.

The state is setting goals to cut food waste in half over the next decade under House Bill 1114.

All this legislative action will generate more of two things: government studies and plans. By 2020, expect a plan on reducing food waste, a plan to clean up the statewide recycling stream, and a study on plastic packaging used in Washington.

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