Lab & Consulting Services

Compost analysis

Biodegradability, Compostability & Ecotoxicity (BCE)

"One-stop laboratory for biodegradability and compostability testing
with more than 20 years of experience"

General

OWS does not only offer testing for certification purposes, but provides assistance throughout the entire process of product development: preliminary research, research and development, certification, finished products from the market, products from competitors,….

In case of certification, testing is performed strictly conform the standard(s) and provides the full documentation needed. In case of (early) research however, more simplified (and hence cheaper) screening tests can be offered, providing a good idea on the chances for success for the ultimate test(s) for certification. In either case, the test methodology is the same.

Furthermore, one does not need to commit to the entire testing program at once. We typically recommend that the characteristic which may present the highest hurdle be tested first. Another possibility is to follow a step-by-step approach and to start with a first step in the complete testing strategy only.

It is in any case often very useful to discuss on beforehand in detail the nature and composition of the sample(s) and see whether testing can be optimized and/or reduced. In this context, more than 95% of our work is covered by secrecy agreements.

Services

Biodegradability and compostability testing

As a strictly independent laboratory working conform ISO 17025, OWS is recognized by all certification bureaus worldwide working in the field of biodegradability and compostability.

In the last 20+ years, OWS has tested more than 2500 samples for more than 750 different clients all over the world, including packaging materials such as plastics and paper, food service ware, adhesives, inks, detergents, consumer products, mineral oils, specialty chemicals, agricultural and horticultural products, etc.

Tests can be performed under different conditions: aerobic (compost, soil, fresh water, marine,…) or anaerobic (landfill, digestion,…).

The below presentation gives a clear overview of OWS’ experiences in biopolymer testing and certification and the recent challenges and new developments in this field.

 (Cryogenic) milling

Besides biodegradability and compostability testing, OWS also has a range of cutting mills available for the shredding, grinding or milling of different types of materials, including soft, fibrous, hard and elastic materials. Softer materials like plastic films, paper, paper board and other fibrous materials can be reduced in size to 500 µm. Also harder materials, like plastic pellets, and elastic materials, like adhesives and glues, can be (cryogenically) milled to the same fineness, using liquid nitrogen.

Tests

Industrial Compostability

After many years of development and intensive discussions in normalization committees, requirements for industrial compostability have become well established and have been firmly fixed in several norms.

Norms

In all of the above norms, the same 4 essential requirements are specified:

Compostability

Industrial compostability - BiodegradationBiodegradation shows quantitatively the inherent characteristic of the material to be consumed by microorganisms and protects the environment by showing that the material will not accumulate in nature. Biodegradability is therefore linked to the chemical composition of a material and represents the % of solid organic C converted to gaseous C under the form of CO2.

Biodegradability testing can be performed under ‘certification’ or ‘screening’ conditions. Certification conditions are required in case results will be used for certification and/or making public claims. Screening conditions are suggested in case of early research and when results will only be used internally.

Testing is performed conform ISO 14855, ASTM D 5338 and/or EN 14046 (in compost), ISO 17556, ISO 11266 and/or ASTM D5988 (in soil), ISO 14851, ISO 9408, EN 29408, ASTM D 5271, OECD 301C, OECD 301F, OECD 302C and/or OECD 302F (in fresh water) and ISO 14851 and/or ASTM D 6691 (in marine water). Multiple sample discounts are offered in case several samples need to be tested in parallel.

Disintegration measures whether the material breaks down and falls apart, thereby protecting the compost plant operator. In other words, the disintegration of a material is linked to its physical form and is therefore strongly affected by its thickness, grammage and/or density. For certification purposes, a precise mass balance is prepared and the exact % of disintegration calculated after sieving and hand-picking of the remaining material at the end of the test.

Testing is performed conform ISO 16929 and/or EN 14045.

As mentioned above, materials and products are certified until a certain thickness only. Therefore, in some cases, it can be better to test several thicknesses first after which the maximum thickness with the highest chance on success can be selected for the ultimate disintegration test for certification. Similarly, also different formulations can be screened first.

12 weeks

Ecotoxicity testing determines whether the material residuals, which are left behind after composting, show any inhibition on plant growth or the survival of soil fauna. Plant toxicity testing is a part of all norms on industrial compostability and prescribes the use of 2 plant species. Earthworm toxicity testing however is only required for AS 4736 certification in Australia.

Ecotoxicity graph

Ecotoxicity testing can be performed on materials, intermediates, final products, inks, adhesives, varnishes, masterbatches, additives… Plant toxicity testing is performed conform OECD 208 and EN 13432, earthworm toxicity testing is performed conform ASTM E 1676, OECD 207, ISO 11268 and/or AS 4736.

 

Finally, heavy metals need to be quantified to assure that the material will have no negative effect on the quality of the end product (compost). Each norm has his own set of heavy metal limits, with EN 13432 and AS 4736 as the most stringent ones.

OWS is recognized by all of the below mentioned certification bureaus offering certification for industrially compostable materials and products. OWS can assist in obtaining the necessary data for and provide guidance in preparing the dossier for certification.

  • Europe: Vinçotte (OK Compost), DIN CERTCO (DIN-Geprüft) & European Bioplastics (seedling)
  • USA: BPI (compostable)
  • Japan: JBPA (GreenPla)
  • Australia: ABA (seedling)
  • And several other (national/regional) systems in Italy, Korea, Canada, Catalunya, Finland…

 Logo industrial compostability Vinçotte           Industrial compostability - ABA - seedling          BPI LOGO_FINAL_0906

 

 Industriell Kompostierbar_en        Industrial compostability - JBPA - GreenPLA         Industrial compostability - Others - Finland         Industrial compostability - Others - Italy         Industrial compostability - Others - Catalunya

Home Compostability

While the first norms on industrial compostability were already published at the turn of the century, it took 10 more years to create a norm on home compostability.  Based on AS 4736, the Australian norm on industrial compostability, Australian Standards published in 2010 world’s first norm on home compostability: AS 5810.

Nevertheless, several other certification schemes were also created, of which some much sooner:

  • Belgium: OK Compost Home program (Vinçotte)
  • UK:  Home compostable certification scheme (Association for Organics Recycling, in cooperation with Vinçotte)
  • US (general): BioSpecs for Food Service Ware (Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative)
  • US (state of California): Senate Bill No. 567: ‘claims on home compostability are only possible if the material is OK Compost Home certified’.

As the main difference between industrial and home compostability is temperature, all certification schemes for home compostability, as well as AS 5810, are based on their industrial compostability counterparts and prescribes the same 4 essential requirements: biodegradation, disintegration, ecotoxicity and heavy metals.

Disintegration - 26 weeksHeavy metals and plant toxicity requirements are similar to those for industrial compostability.

Biodegradation and disintegration however need to be performed at ambient temperature instead of at elevated temperature.

OWS is recognized by all of the below mentioned certification bureaus offering certification for home compostable materials and products and can assist in performing the necessary tests and in providing the necessary guidance for the preparation of the dossier for certification.

  • Europe: Vinçotte (OK Compost Home), DIN CERTCO (DIN-Geprüft Home compostable) and AfOR (FILM home compostable)
  • Australia: ABA (Home compostable)

Logo home compostable Vinçotte     Gartenkompostierung_en       Logo home compostable AfOR      Home compostability - ABA - logo

Degradation in other environments

In case the product’s intended disposal route does not include industrial or home composting, other conditions need to be selected, representative for the environment in which the product will need to degrade after being disposed of.

In this context, different environments can be selected, including soil, fresh water, marine water, anaerobic digestion or landfill. OWS offers testing in all of these environments and can help in selecting the correct environment(s) together with the client.

Other environments

It must be noted that the (bio)degradation of a product varies from one environment to another. In most cases it is the temperature and the microbial activity which determines the rate and level of (bio)degradation. Compost is considered as the most aggressive environment, while landfill is considered as the least aggressive environment. It is therefore not possible to extrapolate positive biodegradation results from one environment to another.

Agressivity

OWS offers the following (bio)degradation testing for the above discussed environments:

  • Biodegradation in soil (ISO 17556, ISO 11266 and/or ASTM D5988)
  • Biodegradation in fresh water (ISO 14851, ISO 9408, EN 29408, ASTM D 5271, OECD 301C, OECD 301F, OECD 302C and/or OECD 302F)
  • Biodegradation in marine water (ISO 14851, ASTM D 6691 and/or ASTM D7081)
  • High-solids anaerobic digestion (ISO 15985 and/or ASTM D 5511)
  • Accelerated landfill test (ASTM D 5526)

Biodegradation in other environments - Biodegradation in marine water Biodegradation in other environments - Accelerated landfill test Biodegradation in other environments - High-solids anaerobic digestion test

Similar to industrial and home compostability, Vinçotte has created a certification scheme and accompanying logo for products which biodegrade in respectively soil (OK Biodegradable Soil) and water (OK Biodegradable Water). Certification for biodegradation in soil requires heavy metals, biodegradation (in soil) and plant toxicity testing, while certification for biodegradation in water only requires heavy metals and biodegradation (in water) testing. OWS can help in obtaining the necessary data for these certificates as well as offer guidance in preparing the dossier for certification.

Logo biodegradation in water Vinçotte             Logo biodegradation in soil Vinçotte

(A)biotic degradation of oxo-degradable plastics

Oxo-degradable plastics are based on conventional plastics, like polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), to which additives have been added aiming at (bio)degrading the plastic by a process initiated by oxygen and accelerated by light and/or heat.

For many years, ASTM D 6954 was the only guide available for testing oxo-degradable plastics. Since 2009, however, several other standards were developed in Europe and the Middle East, including, amongst others, UAE.S 5009 (United Arab Emirates), BS 8472 (UK) and SPCR 141 (Sweden).

The majority of these guides and standards is composed out of 3 so called ‘Tiers’:

Tier 1: Abiotic oxidative degradation

Climate chamberUsing accelerated conditions, samples are subjected to a regime of heat, moisture and/or light exposure in order to determine the time needed to reduce the molecular weight and/or the mechanical properties (e.g. elongation at break).

Testing is performed in stages of 300 hours (12.5 days) and can be performed in line with ASTM D5208 or ISO 4892-3.

The fragmentation of the material is monitored at start and at the end of each stage. Photographs are taken at each interval.

Tier 2: Biodegradation

The residues from the Tier 1 tests are subjected to biodegradation testing using the environment in which the material is intended to end up after disposal (e.g. compost, soil, water, landfill,…). The residues are mixed with the inoculum and the amount and rate of CO2 production, in case of aerobic biodegradation, and additionally CH4 production, in case of anaerobic biodegradation, is measured.

Biodegradability testing can be performed under ‘certification’ or ‘screening’ conditions. Certification conditions are required in case results will be used for certification and/or making public claims. Screening conditions are suggested in case of early research and when results will only be used internally.

Testing is performed conform ISO 14855, ASTM D 5338 and/or EN 14046 (in compost), ISO 17556, ISO 11266 and/or ASTM D5988 (in soil), ISO 14851, ISO 9408, EN 29408, ASTM D 5271, OECD 301F and/or OECD 302C (in fresh water) and ASTM D 6691 (in marine water). Multiple sample discounts are offered in case several samples need to be tested in parallel.

Tier 3: Ecotoxicity

In order to show that the residues from the abiotic and biodegradation processes are not harmful to the environment, a measurement of the effect of the residues from Tier 1 or Tier 2 on a variety of living organisms should be performed.

These tests can include the measurement of germination rates of seeds such as cress, the growth and survival rate of earthworms (OECD Guideline 207), the growth of a variety of plants (OECD Guideline 208) and also survival, growth and/or immobilization of aquatic organisms like Rotifers, Daphnia or algae.

Earthworm toxicity test

References

Base Polymers:

BASF (DE), DSM (NL), Du Pont (US), Limagrain-Biolice (FR), FKuR (DE), Metabolix (US), NatureWorks (US), Novamont (IT), Showa Denko (JP),…

Additivated Base Polymers:

Bio-Tec (US), ECM Biofilms (US), EconVerte (UK), Enzymoplast (UK), EPI (US), Goody (AU), Symphony (UK), Wells Plastics (UK),…

Paper & Board:

Ahlstrom (UK/FR), Huhtamaki (FI/DE), International Paper (US), Kuan Chun Paper (TW), Lenzing (AT), Pactiv (US), UPM (UK/FI),…

Food & Non-Food Packaging:

Alcan Packaging (UK/MX), Amcor (UK), Mondi Packaging (AT), Sealed Air (US), Tetra Pak (SE),…

Consumer Goods & Personal Care:

3M (US), Henkel (DE), Kimberley Clark (US), Nestlé (CH), Proctor & Gamble (BE/UK/DE), Sara Lee (UK), SCA (SE), Unilever (UK/US/FR),…

Inks & Masterbatches:

Schulman Plastics (BE), CIBA (IT/CH), Chimigraf (ES/FR), Flint (NL/FR), Siegwerk (FR), Sun Chemical (AU/FR/ES/UK), Wacker (DE),…

Films & Bags:

Because We Care (AU), Cortec (US), Sabic (SA), Sphere (FR), WeiMon (TW), Wuhan Huali (CN),…

Food Service Ware:

Medac (IT), Seda (IT), Source Atlantique (US), Smurfit Kappa (FR), Solo Cup (US/UK),…

Other categories:

Agriculture & Horticulture (Smithers-Oasis-US), International Associations (EuBP-DE), Governmental Authorities (ACCC-AU),…

Links

Certification in Europe

Certification in the United States

Certification in Australia

Certification in Japan

 

Contact

Head Office (Ghent, Belgium)

Mr. Bruno De Wilde
Lab Manager
E-mail: bruno.dewilde@ows.be

Mr. Sam Deconinck
Marketing & Sales Manager
E-mail: sam.deconinck@ows.be

Tel: +32 9 233 02 04

US Office (Dayton, Ohio)

Ms. Norma McDonald
North America Sales Manager
E-mail: norma.mcdonald@ows.be

Tel: +1 513 535 6760

Publications

Publications related to biodegradability, compostability and ecotoxicity testing can be found here.

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