Scam Watch: “Compostable” Plastic? (sorry Trader Joe’s and Natural Grocers)

Doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, is not simple.

Take compostable plastic.

My enviro-heart lifted when our daughter brought home this produce bag from Natural Grocers:

Industrial Facilities Required

Compostable! Cool! Then I read the fine print. Not suitable for backyard composting.

Our curbside collectors don’t take compostable plastic. In all of the US, only 200 composting facilities accept plastic.* Many more composting facilities could, but they are reluctant to because once people get the idea plastic is compostable, they get lazy and throw regular plastic in with compostable and gum up the works.

My spirits soared again when we found these bags at Trader Joe’s:

Surely if it didn’t compost in a backyard bin, the bag would say so?

I happily tossed it to the worms in our backyard composter before I bothered to look closely. Fooled again. Note the “ASTM D-6400” in small print. ASTM is the American Society for Testing Materials. D-6400 is the certification for compostable plastics. According to ASTM D-6400 “covers plastics designed to be composted under aerobic conditions in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.”

Not compostable in my backyard bin.

It is good news that there are standards governing compostable plastic. “Biodegradable” plastics aren’t regulated at all (more on that later). Still, for most ordinary householders, compostable plastic is no better than regular plastic.

Bottom line: “compostable” bags at Trader Joes and Natural Grocers are, for most people, as much a marketing ploy as “recyclable bags” are for Amazon. For now at least.

So, for now at least, we’ll have to just try to use less plastic.

Although — it’s not a bad idea to support the market for compostable plastic, to help speed a potential future when all plastic is compostable. If that’s a goal for you, by all means, buy from stores that carry it. Just be aware it’s probably going to a landfill, or, if it floats off into the ocean, a river or stream, is just as much a problem as regular plastic.

It’s complicated.

Next week: some ideas on how to use less plastic.

*Here’s a list of industrial composting facilities in the United States. Does your curbside hauler take compostable plastic? How’s it going?


  • We don’t have curbside recycling. We have to take it to SARCAN our local facility. They take plastics numbered 1, 2, 5, 6, but 2 has to be separated from the others. I haven’t seen any compostable plastic. Looking forward to your ideas on less plastic. I’ve reduced the amount of plastic bags I bring home and if a product is available in glass i.e. bar-b-que sauce, then I’ll purchase the glass product.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s fantastic! It’s a pain to add a trip to a recycling facility, and I suspect a lot of people don’t want to think about buying glass rather than plastic. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  • I remember learning about this a few years ago when I did my first stint as a “Green Traveler” at the Maker Faire. It was quite disillusioning. Kind of like tossing what I thought were paper takeout containers into my backyard compost only to find thin plastic film surviving months later–vestiges of the interior plastic coating. Not nice!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Oh no!! (Hi Julia!) *sigh* This plastic thing is totally ridiculous. And that is why I will shop with either my own reusable bags or use paper. I know they had to cut down another tree, but I hate plastic. To think that my father sold the plastic raw material for his employment back in the day. Who knew? But perhaps these attempts, however disappointing they are, will become the predecessor to an actual combustable plastic bag! One can only hope! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree! Hurray that you bring your own bags. I don’t fault your dad. To me, the problem isn’t plastic, it’s our failure to plan for what to do with plastic when we’re done with it. Yes, let’s hope!


  • Hi,
    The picture of the produce bag from Trader Joe’s is not what my local store uses. So I went to them and asked.
    Unfortunately there is no way to share here the actual email response.
    Trader Joe’s Feedback


    webRelations via

    10:52 AM (4 hours ago)

    to me

    Hello Laureen,

    Thank you for contacting us. We are sorry for the delay in response, we are currently experiencing a high volume of emails at this time. We cannot speak to third-party articles written about our products.

    Our produce bags can be composted at home. They are made primarily of corn and are completely compostable. I hope this information helps.

    Customer Relations
    Trader Joe’s


    • Cool! I’m doing an experiment in my backyard composter. I put a bag in there three months ago, and will dig through the pile soon to see if I can find it. Thanks for the follow up. The more questions we ask, the more retailers will take notice.


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