The European standard

The European standard EN 13432 defines the requirements for industrially compostable packaging and includes both the criteria and a test scheme.

The European standard EN 13432 defines the requirements packaging has to meet in order to be processable by industrial composting. It includes the test scheme and evaluation criteria for the compostability and anaerobic treatability of packaging and packaging materials in controlled waste treatment plants. EN 13432 can be applied to all packaging materials. For other than packaging applications the standard EN 14995 is applied. The technical contents of EN13432 and EN14995 are identical.

EN 13432 is not applicable to home composting in which the conditions, such as the temperature, differ from those of industrial composting. As a result, packaging recognized as compostable according to EN 13432 cannot automatically be considered to be suitable for home composting. EN 13432 does not take into account packaging waste which may end up in the environment, through uncontrolled means, i.e. as litter.

A partly compostable package?

The standard outlines that in case of a packaging formed by different components, some of which are compostable and some other not, the packaging itself, as a whole is not compostable. However, if the components can be easily separated by hand before disposal, the compostable components can be considered and treated as such, once separated from the non-compostable components.

What about the contents of the packaging?

If in any case the product filled into a compostable packaging could remain in parts or as a whole in the packaging after the normal use, the products should by themselves be compostable and neither toxic nor hazardous.

EN 13432

According to the EN 13432 standard, a packaging claimed to be compostable must fulfill the following criteria:

Contains a minimum of 50% of volatile solids

Volatile solids means ‘the amount of solids obtained by subtracting the residues of a known amount of test material or compost after incineration at about 550 °C  from the total dry solids content of the same sample.’ The volatile solids content is an indication of the amount of organic matter.

Does not contain hazardous substances, e.g. heavy metals

The concentration of the following substances needs to be measured and shall not exceed the maximum values defined: zinc, copper, nickel, cadmium, lead, mercury, chromium, molybdenum, selenium, arsenic, fluorine.

Is inherently and ultimately biodegradable as demonstrated in laboratory tests

Aerobic biodegradation has been defined as ‘breakdown of an organic chemical compound by naturally occurring micro-organisms in the presence of oxygen to CO2, water and mineral salts of any other elements present (mineralization) and new biomass. In aerobic biodegradation tests the sample’s CO2 production level has to reach 90% of that of the reference material in 6 months.

Disintegrates in a biological waste treatment process

With the term disintegration the standard refers to ‘the physical falling apart into very small fragments of packaging and packaging materials’. After 12 weeks no more that 10% of the original dry weight of test material fails to pass a > 2 mm fraction sieve.

Has no negative effect on the biological treatment process

Any negative effects of the test material on the composting process can be detected by direct comparison of process parameters in reactors with and without test material.

Material must be recognizable as compostable or biodegradable.

The packaging or packaging component which is intended for entering the biowaste stream must be recognizable as compostable or biodegradable by the end user by appropriate means.

Has no negative effect on the quality of the resulting compost

The compost quality shall not be negatively affected by the addition of the packaging defined by the following physical-chemical parameters: volumetric weight (density), total dry solids, volatile solids, salt content, pH, the presence of total nitrogen, ammonium nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.

Possible environmental risks attached to the end compost must be evaluated for example, by determination of the ecotoxicological effects of the biodegradation products or by performing ecotoxicological tests with compost produced with and without packaging material and comparison of the test results. Following the OECD Guideline for testing of chemicals 208 “Terrestrial Plants, Growth Test” the sample compost and the blank compost are being compared on the basis of germination numbers (number of grown plants) and the plant biomass. The growth rate in the test compost must be higher than 90% of that of blank compost.