For a Circular Economy, Start with End-of-Life

How BPI’s petition to the USDA will support the growth of composting infrastructure
By Shannon Pinc, Senior Circular Economy Manager at NatureWorks

More food scraps are being collected for composting than ever: In the past two years alone, the number of households in the U.S. with access to food scraps collection has grown by nearly 50%. Yet the federal definition of acceptable materials for organic compost—limited to plant and animal products—hasn’t changed in nearly 25 years.

Under the current definition of organic compost feedstocks, industrial composters face a difficult choice: either reject food scraps and green waste diverted by compostable packaging (despite its compliance with the standard of compostability used to approve products marked as compostable in many states); steer away from organic compost, missing out on a profitable market for high quality finished compost; or split their production between organic and non-organic compost. In California, they won’t have the option starting in 2026: the state will require all compostable products to follow the federal definition of organic compost in order to be included, severely limiting the feasibility of compostable products. This will also limit the amount of material that can be diverted to composters. 

Compost farm

The outdated definition isn’t just a problem for composters: it’s holding all of us back from a circular economy, where products biodegrade, become compost, and fuel the growth of crops and other agricultural products. If the USDA approves the Biodegradable Products Institute’s recent petition to include certified compostable food packaging in organic compost, it would greatly increase the amount of composted food scraps and boost quality levels. This change would benefit farmers, composters, consumers, and the environment—bringing us all one step closer to a circular economy.

A necessary update to support food scraps composting

Organics diversion mandates are spreading across the country, from coast to coast, and even in the middle, like NatureWorks’ home state of Minnesota. Organics diversion mandates aim to reduce methane emissions by diverting food scraps and yard waste to composting facilities, rather than to landfills.

With federal support these mandates can effectively promote a circular economy. BPI’s petition calls on the USDA’s National Organic Program to follow updated scientific evidence around composting best practices and modernize the definition of compost feedstocks to include certified compostable products that meet ASTM international’s compostability standards.

Building a sustainable infrastructure for a circular economy

To simplify the path to functional composting infrastructure, we need federal leadership to establish a comprehensive, modern definitions. Getting alignment across all states will create harmony at all stages of the supply chain, enabling composters to accept more food scraps and certified compostable products, while still allowing them to sell a premium product into the organic market.

We have the science we need to create a circular economy. It’s time to put it into action.

To support BPI’s petition, you can sign the letter of support here, or you can contact the USDA directly at (202) 720-3252 or