The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
March 3, 2010

Are Compostable Utensils Really Compostable?

TaterWareTheir names range from the catchy (TaterWare, WheatWare, SpudWare) to the merely descriptive (Compostable utensils, PLA utensils, etc.) And while they are touted as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics, very few of them are actually compostable in a real world situation.

TaterWare

Take, for example, TaterWare, made from potato starch, of course. Many of the eateries in San Francisco provide this brand of take-out cutlery and feel good about it because with San Francisco’s new composting law, these things have the best shot at actually being composted. Trouble is, even if the utensils make it to the compost facility, there is little chance they will truly break down all the way.

A program manager from Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling sent me the following photos of TaterWare that had been through the city’s commercial compost operation (60-90 days):

TaterWare does not compost

TaterWare does not compost

TaterWare does not compost

Let me reiterate: These photos were taken AFTER commercial composting at high heat. We know these things won’t break down in a backyard compost. Turns out they won’t break down in a commercial compost either.  As Chris from Golden Gate Disposal wrote me, “Above is the purported ‘biodegradable’ taterware.   I guess it may be in geologic time frames, (millennia) although not demonstrably in a composting operation.”

WheatWare

Last fall, at the SF Green Festival, I met a couple of vendors selling a different product: WheatWare.

WheatWare Comb

I mentioned what I had learned about TaterWare, and they assured me that WheatWare was different.  In fact, they claimed, before deciding to carry the product in their eco store, they themselves had tested it out  by simply burying it in their backyard.  So, I  should be able to duplicate their results, right?

I buried the comb in my front yard (deeper than what you see in the photo) and covered it up with a brick.

WheatWare Comb buried in ground

WheatWare Comb buried in ground

This morning (approximately 90 days later) I dug it up.

WheatWare Comb after 90 days

Not much difference. It still looks and feels like a comb. It might be a tiny bit softer. If I squint. To be fair, I don’t know what would happen to the WheatWare at a commercial compost facility. But also to be fair, how many people in the U.S. have access to a commercial compost facility in the first place???

So what happens when this stuff gets loose in the environment? Specifically what happens if it makes its way to the ocean like any other type of plastic? If it doesn’t break down in the ground or in the high heat of a compost operation, it’s sure not going to break down in cold sea water.  It’ll photodegrade into smaller pieces, for sure. Pieces that sea animals can swallow.

And why are we investing materials and energy into creating single-use disposable items in the first place?  I’ve got more to say about biodegradable/compostable bio-plastics in a future post. But for right now — what’s the alternative to disposable utensils of any type? Bring our own Reusables!

76 comments
dora_g
dora_g

the burying of the comb is not at all an accurate test. you need heat to break it down. even a home compost would have been a better test for the comb than burying it.

BethTerry
BethTerry

@Mike Hi Mike.  There are different kinds of compostable cups.  Are you talking about the paper cups with compostable lining or the corn plastic cups?  The paper ones will compost.  The plastic ones may not.  And they are not allowed in Certified Organic compost anyway.  

The reason that it's harder to recycle some plastics is that they are often made of composite materials and can't easily be recycled.  Also, recycling is a market, and if there is no market for a particular material, it will not be recycled.  It might interest you to know that in communities that accept plastics #1 through #7, they often don't actually recycle all of them.  #1 and #2 are the most valuable.  Many times the other plastics will be landfilled or incinerated.  What's more, most plastic recycling is shipped overseas to countries like China.  I have a whole chapter on the pros and cons of plastic recycling in my book if you'd like to know more.

Mike
Mike

I happened across this discussion while trying to figure out if there is any benefit to providing "compostable" cups  if they will not go into a composter.  I.E. Are compostable coffee cups better for the environment in the landfill than cups not touted as compostable or even (nice and cheap) foam cups?   It looks like the general consensus is: No.  A shame, I am willing to buy the (very expensive) compostables, but I'm pretty sure 90% of them will not be turned in for composting.  

A related question: many kinds of plastics are recyclable, why aren't regular plastic wares recycled?  Is it just a sorting problem?

Jan Grygier
Jan Grygier

One note - someone said GGR in San Francisco "accepts biodegradable cutlery" - they do not, they send them to the landfill. They compost BPI-certified compostable items, and they recycle all hard plastics (as Chris himself once told me, "just lick the fork and you're good to go"). Biodegradable is greenwashing, pure and simple.

Travis
Travis

I realize that many eco-minded people would like to see these biodegradable utensils disappear altogether in 90 days and maybe there is some misleading done by some of the companies that make them, but overall, think of the big picture. The alternative is to have a petroleum based plastic utensil sitting in the landfill basically forever. If it takes 90 months instead of 90 days for the "compostable" products to decompose, that's a huge improvement over the alternative. Of course it would be better to bring your own utensils/cups/straws but we also need to be realistic in what we expect of others. Bury a plastic comb next to a compostable comb and come back in 90 years. That's the difference.

Javan Smith
Javan Smith

I found your results to be quite interesting. It is true that the words biodegradable and compostable are being used rather loosely to describe disposable products of all kinds. The fact is, the only disposable cutlery or plates, bowls, etc. that are truly biodegradable and compostable are those that are 100% natural and organic. Therefore, they return to nature completely (not just disappear to the eye) and they don't require a special facility to help them break down. On the market, that leaves you 3 options: bamboo, wood, or palm leaves. Check out these sites: palm leaf plates: www.verterra.com wooden cutlery: www.eco-gecko.com bamboo cutlery and plates: www.bambuhome.com They are all great products that are truly compostable....

Wheatware greenie
Wheatware greenie

December, 2010 Wheatware in Dead Dirt? Flawed Test? An Important Discussion for America. First, Wheatware.com states that "microbially-active soil" is required for bio-compostability of Wheatware products, (per Wheatware packaging/website). The dirt test at least shows that your "backyard dirt" lacks microbial life, which is rampant across America. The DIRT TEST opens an important discussion. Why won't just "plain dirt" cause biodegradation? What is lacking? Have you ever seen grass cuttings, left behind months ago, still sitting there on a lawn? The natural microbes are missing. Why? First, many gardeners will unknowingly apply to lawns and gardens certain "green it up" fertilizers, placing high concentrations of "muriate potash", which kills the microbial life in soil. This chemical overdose of "muriate potash" will “fry” the microbes, stopping the "natural cycle" of biodegradation of grass cuttings, leaves etc. While earthworms help, microbes are still needed in the soil to help to turn the organic matter into "fertile soil and build humus*". Our after-effect: chemical/fertilizer dependent American lawns, gardens. What happened to get us here? Throughout the 21st century, many of us live in 'new bedroom communities', where new homes came with rolled out grass (sod) on top of the 'leveled' dirt. This leveled dirt is the after result of the bulldozers, which pushed away the topsoil including its rich organic matter, humus, worms and naturally-occurring microbes. Left behind... 'lifeless dirt". Then, after the sod (grass rolls) are rolled out like a new carpet, comes the "keep it green" chemical fertilizers, many with high levels of "muriate potash", ensuring "microbially-dead" lawns. But, how do Americans even know this information? Your article, while bashing of the Wheatware product, through a dead-dirt test, might help get the word out about the lack of "microbially-active soils". Wheatware's "bio-compostability" tests were conducted in the rich farm soils of Nebraska, where Wheatware is manufactured now by Wheatware.com. Those organic soils are typically "microbially-active soil". What has been done to our lawns, gardens and soil, and how do we undo it? Americans could use more understanding about our relationship to the natural environment. Conducting a "dirt" test... at least shows... what we think is “rich” dirt… is not, and is lacking microbial life. How do we put back the microbes, and what quantity is necessary to invigorate the natural system? There are formulas out there, but before you do apply them, make sure that “after” you do, you don't kill them off again with "muriate potash" based formulas. * FYI: high levels of naturally-occurring humus, like in forests, reduce water needs. Who doesn’t want to save on watering? Build the humus content, save water, reduce your water bill.

Greenwashing vs. Dishwashing @
Greenwashing vs. Dishwashing @

[...] form but you could probably just wash them off and use them over and over. (See detatils at Fake Plastic Fish.) It seems beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings that anyone’s backyard compost pile [...]

757 | blog
757 | blog

[...] Plastic Fish discovers some biodegradable/compostable products are not so [...]

Gardner
Gardner

This is a common misunderstanding. The Taterware items are marked as biodegradable not compostable. Here is info from NewBiodegradable.com Biodegradability & Compostability Degradable Plastic is plastic which will undergo a significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions resulting in a loss of some properties. Please note that there is no requirement that the plastic has to be degrade from the action of "naturally occurring microorganism" or any of the other criteria required for compostable plastics. Biodegradable Plastic is plastic which will degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganism, such as bacteria, fungi etc. over a period of time. Note, that there is no requirement for leaving "no toxic residue", and as well as no requirement for the time it needs to take to biodegrade. Compostable Plastic is plastic which is "capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site as part of an available program, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose). and leaves no toxic residue." American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). In order for a plastic to be called compostable, three criteria need to be met: Biodegrade - break down into carbon dioxide, water, biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper). Disintegrate - the material is indistinguishable in the compost, that it is not visible and needs to be screened out Eco-toxicity - the biodegradation does not produce any toxic material and the compost can support plant growth. A plastic therefore may be degradable but not biodegradable or it may be biodegradable but not compostable (that is, it breaks down too slowly to be called compostable or leaves toxic residue).

Mark
Mark

FIrst of all ... the corn-based utensils are not biodegradable. They are compostable. As an architect I became concerned with this issue many years ago before it was in vogue and began working on a sustainable alternative to flatware. I know this is a shameless promotion of the alternative (www.curvware.com), but it's real and can reduce water, gas, electricity and chemical usage associated with washing flatware by between 80% - 90%. This only applies to food service ... not domestic (home) use. All the same, it could save tens of trillions of gallons of water in U.S. restaurants. Just speaking my mind ;-)

Daniel
Daniel

I haven't tried the utensils, but the compostable shopping bags degrade pretty quickly. I put my fava bean pods in one of those bags, and it only took a few days for the bag's bottom to practically disappear.

Shefali
Shefali

Beth Terry-- I agree, the conditions for whether or not something is actually compostable are unclear and manufacturers and distributors of these products should do a better job of indicating the differences between products which are commercially compostable and those that are naturally compostable. I work for a group purchasing organization (GPO) of compostable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly products called Viv in SF. We distribute compostable cutlery and plastics and indicate up front whether these products must be composted at a specific heat in a commercial composter or can be naturally composted as demonstrated in your example above. Check out this blog post about the reasons why Taterware is not compostable: http://vivbizclub.com/blog/2010/02/12/whole-foods-in-soma-san-francisco-says-taterware-not-compostable/--it is mostly made of plastic and not BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certified. Our products, on the other hand, are 100% BPI certified and ready to be composted! Check out http://vivbizclub.com/products/ for more information!

Sherry Fergesen
Sherry Fergesen

I am disappointed to see no breakdown of the compostable wares. However, for a supposed trial of compostables, burying something in the dirt is NOT composting it. I just looked into industrial composting definition (would be as an alternative treatment in urban trash processing). A fair test would be placing in in a hot compost pile for 3-6 weeks (at least 3x3x3 feet plus that includes a mix of nitrogenous matter (fresh grass or leafy wastes or food peelings etc-- green stuff) & cellulosic matter (straw, dry leaves, paper -- brown stuff). I did this research because I was trying to find out more about the "compostable" Sun Chips bag. While I did find out what "industrial composting" is, and that it can be composted in a hot heap at home, I was NOT able to find out WHAT components it breaks down into. I'd kind of like to know that before I add it to my garden compost for future inclusion in my food supply. The manufacturer's website cutely sidesteps this by saying "breaks down completely into compost'.

Robert Waddell
Robert Waddell

No glazes, glues or dyes used in the manufacturing of the product. The utensils are packaged into sets of 100 pieces each.

Rob Waddell
Rob Waddell

Good Afternoon... I wanted to introduce to you a new type of compostable utensil that not only looks green but is green. Most Bio-Plastic utensils that are heat tolerant over 140 F are not considered compostable due to the fact that a compost pile will never be able to reach the temperatures required to breakdown a bio-plastic fork that is heat tolerant to 200 F. In contacting multiple compost suppliers the solution has been to remove all bio-plastic from received compost and send it to the landfill to biodegrade. This is being done for two reasons. First, it is very difficult to indentify a bio-plastic from a plastic fork. Therefore it is policy to remove all utensils to insure the quality of compost. Second, it doesn’t compost. All bio-plastic that is heat tolerant above 140 F will not compost. It’s strictly a factor of temperature over any statement made by the manufacturer. Birchware has been approved by Cedar Gove Composting in Seattle, WA. The largest provider of compost in the Pacific Northwest. Cedar Grove has tested Birchware and approved it to be disposed of with your food scraps in a compost bin. Birchware is the only high temperature (over 200F) that is accepted as a 100% compostable utensil in the Pacific Northwest. Understanding as more communities start composting programs the effort to use only compostable product will increase. I invite you to take a look at http://www.birchware.com for more information. Please feel free to contact me with any additional question. http://cedar-grove.com/acceptable/utensils.asp

Ted
Ted

Very interesting story. It caught my eye because of a similar experiment my son tried. He took 4 "biodegradable plastic" spoons from the local college cafeteria and placed them into 4 sealed clear plastic containers. I am not sure of the brand of utensils, but I believe they were of the potato starch variety. Two of the containers were left empty and dry, two were filled with water. Two were covered in dark paper (one wet and one dry) , two were left clear. All four were placed on a windowsill with daily bright sunlight. He was going to make monthly observations and record which broke down first. The only problem is that it is now 2 years later and none of the spoons has significantly changed. There is some black mildew growing on light, wet one. There is some white stringy stuff clouding the water in the dark, wet one. In the light, dry container the spoon easily broke into several pieces when it was shaken, indicating it had become brittle. We have decided that although these types of utensils will presumably break down long before utensils made from conventional plastic (making them a good choice), the time scales involved are still significantly greater than the casual consumer might imagine when they hear the term "biodegradable plastic".

Ted
Ted

Very interesting story. It caught my eye because of a similar experiment my son tried. He took 4 "biodegradable plastic" spoons from the local college cafeteria and placed them into 4 sealed clear plastic containers. I am not sure of the brand of utensils, but I believe they were of the potato starch variety. Two of the containers were left empty and dry, two were filled with water. Two were covered in dark paper (one wet and one dry) , two were left clear. All four were placed on a windowsill with daily bright sunlight. He was going to make monthly observations and record which broke down first. The only problem is that it is now 2 years later and none of the spoons has significantly changed. There is some black mildew growing on light, wet one. There is some white stringy stuff clouding the water in the dark, wet one. In the light, dry container the spoon easily broke into several pieces when it was shaken, indicating it had become brittle.

We have decided that although these types of utensils will presumably break down long before utensils made from conventional plastic (making them a good choice), the time scales involved are still significantly greater than the casual consumer might imagine when they hear the term "biodegradable plastic".

Anni
Anni

Well..I can see many perspectives here.My feeling is that we should always consider the possibility of false advertising and carefully check the validity of these company's claims.It is possible in some cases that only high heat measures will break these things down.It sucks that many recycling services don't bother to separate the degradable items from the rest!I have always had some question as to the way these folks really do it.I used to work as a landscaper in Seattle and when we would go the processing center to dump yard waste it would be really over whelming to see how much goes into the landfills. If I hear of a well tested biodegradable product I will use it,that is if I have no other choice handy.I agree with the idea of carrying your own..I admit though I often forget :( as I'm sure many of you do at times. I think one way of raising awareness...(and I'm going to try this out !)is to fashion yourself a nifty case for food ware!Yes this is going to be fun!If I can figure out how to post an image on here,I'll put one up :) Anyway I'm new here!Nice to meet you all!

Bear
Bear

I'm not an expert on things-green, but I think it's probably important that compostable is not the same as biodegradable. I see a fair amount of interchangeable usage and that may not be helpful towards having informed consumers. :)

robin
robin

Great post. I got a spoon that should be biodegradable once in a ice cream shop and decided to check it out and on the manufactures website it clearly said that it would no degrade in nature but only at high heat so what use is that. I agree with earlier poster bring you own reusable cutlery you can get great little sets at an outdoor store and i even seen them at a dollar store once. .-= robin´s last blog ..Legendary T-Shirt =-.

Hurray for Compostable Packaging! (But No Packagin
Hurray for Compostable Packaging! (But No Packagin

[...] that doesn’t mean it really will compost.  Fake Plastic Fish had an article lately about supposedly compostable forks and spoons that didn’t compost as promised.  We do compost so would put it in our pile, but a lot of people [...]

Don
Don

As a distributor of biodegradable/compostable products, I find that there is extreme abuse by companies that throw around the word biodegradable. First off to even make that claim in the state of CA. the product must be BPI certified ( or some other comparable certifying entity) and meet certain ASTM standards for biodegradable/compostable capabilities. You as a consumer have the right to ask for such documentation or proof of biodegradable claims. This fall under CA. law SB1749. There are way too many companies making false claims on products that have no proof of certification. As for break down of these products, many will actually not break down in 90 days unless it is placed in the correct conditions. So if you plan on digging a hole in your back yard or throwing it in you home compost system, you will most likely not see any breakdown of the product for a year or more. Many of these biodegradable products need to be shredded and then put into a commercial composting facility that can produce enough heat to begin the breakdown process. Without any guidelines and education for the consumer many folks will continue to not dispose of these items correctly and many will continue to get ripped off by companies that make false claims. Trust me I have been in that situation before. Most likely that comb that you buried was just a regular plastic comb with the words biodegradable on it. Another note is many companies claim to put an additive to plastic that breaks the plastic down. This type of biodegradable claim is illegal in CA. so please as consumers just buy biodegradable products that are certified buy BPI or a comparable certifying company. This way you know that the claims have been tested and work.

HealthnutAli
HealthnutAli

I've put a Starbucks hot cup in my worm bin. Months later it was sawdust inside of a plastic case. I took it out, lest it poison my worms! What I really want to know about all of this biodegradable ware is how it doesn't leach plastics into what we are consuming. My husband works for a company that only has compostable cups, plates, utensils, etc. However, when he orders an iced latte the cup seems to start breaking down before he's finished his drink. If it's just breaking back down into wheat or corn then maybe that's okay, but something is holding it together. Isn't there still petroleum in these products? This is just another problem, (that costs tons of money to create)that company's have come up with to make money while making us feel good. I agree, bring your own reusable ware. Glass is especially safe and can be recycled if broken or lost.

Anna @Green Talk
Anna @Green Talk

Very eye opening, but i wanted to add another perspective. It took me 2 years to get compost because my compost is in a closed composter. I am very lazy about it so I don't give it enough water or turn it that often. Plus, I don't shred my brown (leaves) so it will take longer to break down. So, I am not surprised that your comb did not compost in the ground. Companies should be more honest that products might be home compostable under perfect conditions. And how many of us compost perfectly? Surely not me. The biodegradable plastic part of the article was very disappointing. I am tired of getting my hopes up. Darn bio-plastics. Back to checking out seed catalogs. .-= Anna @Green Talk´s last blog ..Do you Know What’s in Your Food Pantry? =-.

Tanya
Tanya

Hi Beth- I was reading this post on the bus on the way home yesterday and since I had to stop by Whole Foods on my way home I also checked out the "compostable" utensils while I was there. According to the box that I looked at it said that it takes 3-6 months to compost...

Kathy G
Kathy G

Thanks for the information. I haven't bought plastic utensils in quite some time, so I wasn't really aware that they were available. Sounds like it's not worth it, though. I'm trying to remember to take my utensils with me (getting better, but it's hard to remember to grab shopping bag AND water bottle AND silverware). When I forget and have to use plastic, I bring them home, wash them, and take them to work when I have a large supply. At least that way they get used more than once. .-= Kathy G´s last blog ..Books For Free =-.

Rob
Rob

I say carry around bamboo chopsticks. And re-use them. Of course carrying your won utensils is the answer. .-= Rob´s last blog ..Local Flowers =-.

Michael
Michael

See, the problem is that there is a typo here. Someone at the company make the label "biodegradable", but is should read "biodegrading". .-= Michael´s last blog ..Bio-Degrading [62:365] =-.

EcoYogini
EcoYogini

Bioplastics are my pet peeve. Halifax has a composting facility... that doesn't even accept bioplastics at all. Still, local businesses have been touting biodegradable cups, bags etc.... encouraging consumers to put them in the organics bins as if by passively dumping them to the compost facility city officials will change their policies. instead, when I spoke with the Compost facility official she informed me that the people paid to monitor the compost input weren't paid enough to figure out the bioplastic from regular plastic. It all got tossed in the landfill anyways (with no oxygen or sunlight to degrade... if they ever do). .-= EcoYogini´s last blog ..Coffee and Yoga; Halifax Student-Led Yoga Group =-.

John
John

I sincerely hope you don't consider this to be a scientific experiment. Do you even know how compostable bioplastics degrade? Apparently not, seeing that you expected that comb to degrade as if it were made out of apple flesh. Let alone that your composting period was *during the winter* !? Seriously? I wish you would have stuck a whole carrot in the ground along side of it, just so that you could see that not compost in those conditions as well. Oh, but wait, what about that utensil that went through the commercial composting? What I find curious is that if these compostable plastics didn't eventually compost, why does the GGD website specifically state that they accept them? Either the full picture wasn't given by Chris, or GGD's managers aren't on top of things, as well as all of the other commercial composters around the US who accept them. Compostable bioplastics are not food. Just so you get that clear, I'll write it again: Compostable bioplastics *are not* food. They may take even years to degrade in the least favorable conditions, but that's a thousandth of what traditional plastics take. Bioplastics are not a short term solution to littering, but they *are* a long-term mitigation of it. Also, you're forgetting a very important benefit of bioplastics: they aren't made from petroleum. I'm a full advocate of promoting reuse over disposal, and I support everything about your site and purpose. That being said, the grounded, realistic perspective is that we *won't* be able to stop all disposable plastic use within the next decade, or even within the next several decades - there's *mountains* of social and market inertia to overcome. As far as I'm concerned bioplastics are our best hope at an intermediary stepping stone before we get to that point, such that the record volumes of plastic refuse that will get thrown away in the meanwhile *won't* be around for millenia afterwards. Uninformed opinions and misguide expectations such as you've presented in this post are doing more damage than good, I fear. I really sincerely hope you take the time to speak with someone other than the sales reps of these utensil companies and find out from their technical staff what should be the correct expectations to hold about compostable bioplastics. THAT will give people much more valuable information to make decisions with than randomly sticking a comb in the ground over the winter.

Kai
Kai

Can you say GREENWASHING?? But perhaps some of the corn based utensils break down more easily than others. I have, on several occasions, had corn spoons melt on me when trying to stir hot tea or eat hot soup. .-= Kai´s last blog ..Lite-Brite, Rainbow Brite, and a Giveaway! =-.

Angela S
Angela S

Since aluminum is a material which is actually profitable to recycle, why isn't anyone making aluminum "silverware"? It seems like a great idea, unless I am overlooking some obvious issue.

CA
CA

Wow... I appreciate the real life experiments with composting these utensils. I was really excited about them when they came out. At minimum, it is a step away from using petroleum products to make utensils, reuses materials that would go into the waste steam, and at some point will likely degrade. Hopefully the makers are going to continue to work on developing a better product, and provide additional information on their packing and product information to update the facts.

et
et

But even bamboo has issues. Yes, it will break down but it must be grown (sometimes by removing natural forests) manufactured using non-renewable energy, packaged, shipped and brought home. There is no free lunch! Beth - a post on pros & cons of bamboo sometime?

Emily
Emily

Beth - the Taterware website explicitly states (on the FAQ webpage)

"Bio Grade 300™ Cutlery is designed to degrade 100% in 60 to 90 days (in a commercial compost facility). Home composting 70 to 90 days must be fractured. Marine environment in 70 to 90 days."

This claim on their website - and surely how they sell to restaurants ~ is concerning because it is obviously not 100% degraded or even 10% degraded... (the raised lettering is very crisp - no signs of wear).

Emily
Emily

Beth - the Taterware website explicitly states (on the FAQ webpage) "Bio Grade 300™ Cutlery is designed to degrade 100% in 60 to 90 days (in a commercial compost facility). Home composting 70 to 90 days must be fractured. Marine environment in 70 to 90 days." This claim on their website - and surely how they sell to restaurants ~ is concerning because it is obviously not 100% degraded or even 10% degraded... (the raised lettering is very crisp - no signs of wear). http://www.bdfs.net/products/FAQ/

Sense of Home
Sense of Home

Great post! I wondered about that, thanks for doing the research. I had decided a while ago that even if these items were compostable (which it turns out they are not), they were a waste of resources since they were meant to be used only once. I will stick to taking a spoon or fork in my lunchbag from my silverware drawer.

Katy
Katy

I have to say, one of the MOST annoying things about my office building is the green washing that has gone on the last year. Why does this office in Texas, that DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A COMPOST BIN let alone access to commercial composting have compostable plastic wear? As you have shown, this stuff doesn't compost in the best of conditions, its sure as heck not going to compost while sitting in a plastic trash bag in a landfil. .-= Katy´s last blog ..In Memory of Becky =-.

M
M

I see that condo_blues mentioned that stuff like veggies won't break down in her compost pile in 90 days. So, not to say I want anyone to try this out, but what would happen if some(one/thing) ate some of this "compostable" plastic? My body can break down some aspects of veggies much faster than 90 days, so maybe my body could break down the compostable plastic faster? Truthfully, I know nothing about the manufacturing process of bioplastic and where the critical differences between bio and non-bio plastics begin and end.... .-= M´s last blog ..downtown LA =-.

Andrea
Andrea

Dang! I got all excited when I saw a commercial for Sunchips that said their new bags are biodegradeable. .-= Andrea´s last blog ..Revision =-.

John Costigane
John Costigane

Beth, There have been so many false dawns with biodegradable/compostable packaging and implements that we should just avoid them altogether. Eventually the companies responsible will get the message and provide fully tested/developed systems which are then checked out by enthusiasts, who are only concerned with objective truth. What is most laughable is that high temperature composting does not work either so there is no point in recycling the material. Clueless is the word that comes to mind.

Compostable Cutlery | Tiny Choices
Compostable Cutlery | Tiny Choices

[...] research into this situation, and contacted a recycling company in San Franscisco.  They sent her photos of a potat0-starch based spoon and fork, before and after they’d been composted at extr....  In both photos, the cutlery looks identical– they didn’t break down at all in the [...]

akiko kanna jones
akiko kanna jones

The thing is, even in the suitably controlled composting condition, bioplastic takes too long to break down. It still doesn't solve the litter problem and can harm animals. I can easily imagine that a sea lion pup or a Albatross chick dead after ingesting a piece with a biodegradable label. Plus, how much of those bioplastic products really goes to the controlled composting facilities? Most of time, they are thrown into regular trash cans with non-biodegradable trash bags lining. So, what's the point? Bringing your own is the best we can do at this moment. .-= akiko kanna jones´s last blog ..Very true. We need to realize that human self-righteous arrogance has gone too far. =-.

Laura
Laura

My thinking had been that bio-based plastics aren't perfect but if they got out of a landfill at least they'd eventually biodegrade where plastics wouldn't... Over the last year or two I have been wondering about this and trying to devise a clever experiment that could get me into a PhD program researching whether bio-based plastics degrade in a natural ocean environment better than plastic (or at all I should say). I guess someone has beat me to it! I would love to see the results or Ryan's classmate. And a question for the non-purse-carrying readers - I do carry reusables when I know I am going someplace I would need them, but I get caught off-guard more often than I'd like. I don't carry a purse or bag, and would prefer anything I carry to fit in my pockets (hard to fit utensils and my own containers for restaurant leftovers into my pockets!). Where/how do you carry your reusables since you don't have a bag to toss them into? Seems like a silly question, but practical (at least for me).

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Mike Hi Mike.  There are different kinds of compostable cups.  Are you talking about the paper cups with compostable lining or the corn plastic cups?  The paper ones will compost.  The plastic ones may not.  And they are not allowed in Certified Organic compost anyway.  

The reason that it's harder to recycle some plastics is that they are often made of composite materials and can't easily be recycled.  Also, recycling is a market, and if there is no market for a particular material, it will not be recycled.  It might interest you to know that in communities that accept plastics #1 through #7, they often don't actually recycle all of them.  #1 and #2 are the most valuable.  Many times the other plastics will be landfilled or incinerated.  What's more, most plastic recycling is shipped overseas to countries like China.  I have a whole chapter on the pros and cons of plastic recycling in my book if you'd like to know more.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Javan, I agree with you that those products are preferable to "bio plastic" utensils. What doesn't make sense to me is why they are then packaged in plastic. I know that verterra is packaged in plastic. Do you know about the others?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Sherry. I agree that burying in the ground is not a good test of compostability. The point I was trying to make was that I followed the instructions of the vendor, which is what most people would do who haven't researched compostable plastics like I have. They told me they buried it in the backyard, so that's what I did. Practically speaking, these things will never get composted if those who sell them are giving out incorrect information. I'm planning on looking into the Sunchips bag. I am very skeptical. After all, it's another single-use disposable packaging item. No good, no matter what it's made from and what it degrades into.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Rob. This is a very interesting product and I think something I would advocate over bioplastic. It's not coated with anything. Just wood and that's all? Kind of reminds me of those "spoons" we used to get with ice cream back in the day before everyone switched to plastic. I do think we need to get away from all kinds of disposables. Durable utensils would be my first choice. But if durable is not an option, this does seem like a good choice. One question: How are they packaged?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] research into this situation, and contacted a recycling company in San Franscisco.  They sent her photos of a potat0-starch based spoon and fork, before and after they’d been composted at extr….  In both photos, the cutlery looks identical– they didn’t break down at all in the [...]

  2. Hurray for Compostable Packaging! (But No Packaging is Still Better…) « Experiments in Low Impact Living says:

    [...] that doesn’t mean it really will compost.  Fake Plastic Fish had an article lately about supposedly compostable forks and spoons that didn’t compost as promised.  We do compost so would put it in our pile, but a lot of people [...]

  3. 757 | blog says:

    [...] Plastic Fish discovers some biodegradable/compostable products are not so [...]

  4. Greenwashing vs. Dishwashing @ says:

    [...] form but you could probably just wash them off and use them over and over. (See detatils at Fake Plastic Fish.) It seems beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings that anyone’s backyard compost pile [...]

  5. [...] picture at the top of this page, from myplasticfreelife.com, shows a supposedly biodegradable fork and spoon after 60 – 90 days in San Francisco’s [...]