What are “Compostable Products”?
Many vendors offer biodegradable disposable service-ware that can be composted. These products (including cups, bowls and take-out clamshells) are made from renewable resources and will bio-degrade in the commercial composting environments. The products are not derived from petroleum but from plant materials including vegetable oils and starches and molded fibers such as bagasse (sugarcane) and grasses, etc. The lifecycle costs and emissions generated by the compostable products we use are less than or equal to those of traditional recyclable disposable products.
In order for a product to be considered compostable, it must:
- Biodegrade – the material’s carbon chains break down by naturally occurring microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc) into energy (heat), carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper).
- Disintegrate - be indistinguishable in the compost, that is, not visible or able to be screened out.
- Not be eco-toxic- not produce any toxic materials; resulting compost can support plant growth.
How can I tell if a service item is compostable?
See list below of compostable serviceware. LHP&L uses BPI certification from the Biodegradeable Products Institute as our accepted standard for what is compostable, so look for the BPI logo (below) and/or check labeling - plastic made from bio-degradable plastic usually say “PLA” (which stands for poly-lactic acid), and/or “COMPOSTABLE” on the bottom.
TIP: Always purchase compostable plates and utensils certified by the Biodegradeable Products Institute (http://www.bpiworld.org/)
Compostable Serviceware Offerings:
- Greenware cups (www.greenware.org):
- Made from PLA (polylactic acid or Polylactide), a corn derivative.
- Products use a PLA made by NatureWorks, which is currently made from No. 2 yellow dent field corn grown within a 300-mile radius of their Nebraska facility.
- When at capacity, NatureWorks LLC will use less than one half of one percent of the available U.S. corn crop to make PLA.
- Lifecycle analyses found Greenware cups are 30-50% less energy intensive to produce than traditional plastic and emit 24 - 55% less greenhouse gases. (http://www.natureworksllc.com/the-ingeo-journey/eco-profile-and-lca/life-cycle-analysis/cups_pea.aspx)
- Biodegrade 100% within 50 days in commercial composting facilities
- Ecotainer products (hot cup sleeves, soup bowls and lids): www.internationalpaper.com/US/EN/Products/ecotainer/ecotainer.html
- Products are paper fibers coated with PLA (also NatureWorks brand).
- Paper fibers made from trees certified to adhere to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) guidelines for management and harvesting. No trees from old-growth or endangered forests are used. More than two-thirds of the energy used to make the paperboard comes from renewable resources.
- Earthsmart products (take-out containers and plates/bowls): www.earthsmartllc.com
- Made of bagasse, a sugar cane derivative.
- Production of bagasse products use ¼ of the water and energy and creates ½ the emissions used to produce comparable paper products.
***Note—compostable containers are not intended to be used in the microwave, and do not hold up as well when heated.***
I am concerned about using a food source, such as corn, as packaging when there are so many global food shortages.
This is an incredibly complicated issue, and we don’t have an easy answer, but agree that this is a serious problem and should be addressed at all levels. For now we feel the positive waste reduction and greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits outweigh the negatives from use of these biodegradable products, but will continue to learn about this issue and will consider all impacts of our choices for future decisions.