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.


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.”


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!

74 Responses to “Are Compostable Utensils Really Compostable?”

  1. fritzlinda says:

    I’ve tried these experiments in my compost with equally sad results.  The one piece of plastic I do own though are CRESBI crates for grocery shopping.  I plan on passing them on to my grandchildren they’re that tough and that useful.

  2. dora_g says:

    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.

  3. Mike says:

    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?

    • BethTerry says:

      @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.

  4. Jan Grygier says:

    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.

  5. Travis says:

    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.

  6. Javan Smith says:

    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:
    wooden cutlery:
    bamboo cutlery and plates:

    They are all great products that are truly compostable….

    • Beth Terry says:

      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?

  7. December, 2010
    Wheatware in Dead Dirt? Flawed Test? An Important Discussion for America.

    First, 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 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.

  8. Gardner says:

    This is a common misunderstanding. The Taterware items are marked as biodegradable not compostable.

    Here is info from

    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).

  9. Mark says:

    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 (, 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 ;-)

  10. Daniel says:

    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.

  11. Shefali says:

    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: 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 for more information!

  12. Sherry Fergesen says:

    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’.

    • Beth Terry says:

      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.

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

  14. Rob Waddell says:

    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 for more information. Please feel free to contact me with any additional question.

    • Beth Terry says:

      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?

  15. Ted says:

    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”.

  16. Anni says:

    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!

  17. Bear says:

    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. :)

  18. robin says:

    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 =-.

  19. Don says:

    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.

  20. HealthnutAli says:

    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.

  21. 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? =-.

  22. Tanya says:

    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…

  23. Kathy G says:

    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 =-.

  24. Rob says:

    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 =-.

  25. Michael says:

    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] =-.

  26. EcoYogini says:

    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 =-.

  27. John says:

    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.

  28. Kai says:

    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! =-.

  29. Angela S says:

    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.

  30. CA says:

    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.

  31. et says:

    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?

  32. Emily says:

    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).

  33. 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.

  34. Katy says:

    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 =-.

  35. M says:

    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 =-.

  36. Andrea says:

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

  37. John Costigane says:


    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.

  38. 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. =-.

  39. Laura says:

    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).

  40. Carolyn says:

    As a distributor of compostable wares – I must say that when purchasing compostable goods remember that compostable is a regulated term. Just like ‘organic’ vs. one claiming that an item is ‘natural’. The American Chemistry Council claims that plastic is biodegradable – because it will decompose EVENTUALLY.

    So – buyer beware. Compostable certifications to trust are from BPI and the ASTM D-6400.

    I do agree – reusable is the ultimate, but until we are there, these products are a good transition item. It helps create a demand and awareness and, when composted (heat, humidity and time) the loop closes more than using petro-based disposables.

  41. Amy says:

    The same thoughts have been on my mind this past week as I bought and am planning to test the new SunChips compostable chip bags. These are advertised right on the bag as compostable in a hot, active home compost pile – so we’ll see. This is likely what I’ll be blogging about too, next week in Green Garbage Project land.

  42. I am printing a copy of this blog , using my plastic computer and plastic printer with its plastic cartridges of ink, and I will insert the copies in (plastic) protector sheets to bring with me to Whole Foods and other places that provide compostable plastic utensils so I can show your plastically protected blog to the people who should Know.
    .-= axelle fortier´s last blog .. =-.

  43. Amber says:

    That’s so disappointing! Bringing your own should of course be your first choice, but when I’ve been someplace public and seen scores of people using disposable cutlery I felt heartened when it was at least compostable. Now, knowing that it isn’t, I feel pretty discouraged.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Extinguishing the Flame =-.

  44. Condo Blues says:

    I’m curious. Did either company say how long it took for their item to compost? Maybe in the case of the comb it will break down but takes longer than 90 days? My backyard compost won’t break down that quickly and it’s the normal veggies and shredded paper.
    .-= Condo Blues´s last blog ..Are Low VOC Paints Long Lasting? =-.

  45. Tracey says:

    Yes, that’s primarily why I bailed on the project to have PLA bottles made here. I read “industrial composting facility” and realized that this would not do!

    Did you try to compost the vegetable cellulose film? Mine composts nicely.
    .-= Tracey´s last blog ..Natural Products from Delightful to, uh, disappointing… How To Keep Your Natural Products Working for You =-.

  46. That’s aa frustrating find. Especially when we are going out of our way to find bio degradable items. I guess it’s just like bags & coffee cups, the best solution is to bring your own.
    Oops, should say good post! Looking forward to seeing your next post!

  47. Christi spangler says:

    That’s aa frustrating find. Especially when we are going out of our way to find bio degradable items. I guess it’s just like bags & coffee cups, the best solution is to bring your own.

  48. Debra Baida says:

    I’ll just say it again: just as easy as it becomes to bring your wallet and cellphone when you leave the house, it’s just as easy to slip a fork or a spoon or a svelte pair of chopsticks in your bag, too. Practice, practice, practice.

  49. monkeyjen says:

    To-go ware bamboo cutlery in my purse, the real kind at work. Not so hard :-)

  50. MicheleP says:

    The “biodegradable” cutlery at my husband’s workplace seems to get soft while you are eating. So maybe it is better at decomposing. Hmmm. I will have to check the brand name next time I am there.

    But even if any of this theoretically compostable cutlery (and other compostable dinnerwear) really composts, there is still the barrier of getting people to compost it. We are lucky to have curbside pickup for compostables in the Seattle area that goes to a commercial composter. However, I have noticed that many of the shoppers at PCC (our local natural grocery chain) don’t take the time to through the compostables in the proper bin (which is well marked). Compostables end up in the garbage bin. (And garbage ends up in the compost bin.) And this is presumably a sometwhat self-selected group of folks – almost two-thirds of their customers bring their own bags. If you can’t get these folks to sort properly is there hope for the rest?

    I agree – bring your own! I am gonig to make portable napkin/cutlery sets for everyone on our Christmas list! Now whether they’ll use them …

  51. margery says:

    I’m working on bringing my own, Beth! Just had an exciting day of shopping, finally got some good containers to do that bringing with!

    I would love to see those findings Ryan mentioned too. I hope she does do a guest post! Enlighten us all! Share the knowledge!
    .-= margery´s last blog ..London Drugs as source of plastic-free living goods? Who knew! =-.

  52. Pheas says:

    “But for right now — what’s the alternative to disposable utensils of any type?”

    I carry this nifty bamboo set with me ( If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you should check out Beth Terry’s blog, :)

  53. Peace All,

    I’ve done the some test each year with the forks from Green Festival. I really should write about it. The alst three years have brought no breakdown and I go a full year Green Fest to Green Fest.

    My alternative is Bamboo flatware that I reuse and carry with me everywhere. I believe its called replay or reply by ToGoware at I’ll find the link and post it when I’m now on my phone. Bamboo is renewable and I have complete faith that it will breakdown if lost or when I’m done with it.
    Love is….TL

  54. Lacey says:

    Wow. I would have thought there would be some change.

    In my job I frequently order catering for off-site events and I have a really hard time with the dishes/utensils. I never know what the site will have – we have real dishes here but a lot of places don’t. What good does it to do order from an organic caterer if I need them to bring plasticware?

    BTW all organic/eco caterers that only offer beverages in plastic bottles irritate me. Hello you are supposed to be eco-friendly!
    .-= Lacey´s last blog ..Eastern Market =-.

  55. These utensils may need to be ground up into small particles. The West Lafayette City gov. has a digester which is a lot faster than natural decomposition. Stuff that goes into it must be ground up by something like a tree grinder.
    .-= LInda Anderson´s last blog ..March’s Stupid Plastic Crap =-.

  56. Lace says:

    Wow. I would have thought there would be some change.

    In my job I frequently order catering for off-site events and I have a really hard time with the dishes/utensils. I never know what the site will have – we have real dishes here but a lot of places don’t. What good does it to do order from an organic caterer if I need them to bring plasticware?

    BTW all organic/eco caterers that only offer beverages in plastic bottles irritate me. Hello you are supposed to be eco-friendly!
    .-= Lace´s last blog ..Eastern Market =-.

  57. Ari says:

    I would hope that when it eventually does break down that it will be safer for fish, groundwater, etc. Perhaps they designed it to break down more slowly because it deals with food and may slightly decompose in people’s pantries, while they are eating, etc. Perhaps they don’t want that too happen too quickly because of that. I don’t know. I would love to think that these utensils are better in the long run. At least they are using renewable resources to create them instead of petroleum.

  58. Tigerlily says:

    I am totally disappointed. When I first saw the biodegradable tableware I was very excited. I thought it could be a great solution to some of the disposable problem. But after seeing that neither of the products appear to have even cracked my faith and excitement has dissipated.

    It’s probably like dog waste disposal bags. I still buy them even though I am pretty sure that they will not break down as advertised (especially without commercial composting) but it has to be better then traditional plastic bags.

  59. Courtney says:

    Very eye opening, Beth. I’ve always thought that compostable utensils were just a way for people to make themselves feel better while still continuing to live a disposable lifestyle, and now we know that they aren’t really a very good alternative. I’ve never bought them because I don’t have an industrial composting facility to send them to, but it looks like that doesn’t make much of a difference anyway. *sigh* Let’s all chant it together, “Bring Your Own!”
    .-= Courtney´s last blog ..Just starting =-.

  60. Eleanor says:

    A coworker gave me a “compostable” disposable cup to see if it would break down last fall. I dutifully added it to my compost, which is still cooking in my back yard. I’ll give it a chance to warm up and get going again in the spring (it’s pretty frozen right now) and let you know how it goes. If the manufacturer is still visible, that would be interesting (I didn’t note it, and it was before I had a blog to keep track of these things).

    My personal policy is “use a reusable or do without”. I find fingerfoods to be the easiest solution – my fingers are BOTH reusable and ultimately compostable when I’m done with them. They’re fantastic utensils, despite my mother’s admonitions growing up. Who knew toddlers were so green?

  61. Florence Eve says:

    Clearly these items havent broken down yet, but given time they will. Whether it be in 100days or 10,000days or more. Thats still far quicker than a normal plastic item.
    Not forgetting that the chemicals released during the manufacture and break down process are far less harmful to the environment if at all when compared to PVC plastics.

    My yongest daughter is still playing with a large bead necklace that belonged to my Mum as a child (she’s 70 now), and it still looks every bit as solid plastic and colourful as ever with no sign of degradation at all!
    I have no doubt that had the necklace been made of PLA it would in no way be looking as good 70 yrs on.

  62. Ryan says:

    Hi Beth!

    I am certainly not an expert on biodegradable plastics, although I am incorporating it into my senior research paper (as a potential solution, although it looks like it’s really not a solution but just another problem!). One of my classmates is actually studying how so-called “biodegradable” plastics break down, specifically in the marine environment and comparing those results with regular plastic products. It looks like nothing really breaks down quickly in the ocean.

    If you’re interested in her project, I could see if she’s willing to share her findings!

    .-= Ryan´s last blog ..The tragedy that no one sees… =-.

    • Beth Terry says:

      Ryan, I am totally interested in her findings. Maybe she could do a guest post on Fake Plastic Fish when she finishes her project.

      I remember Anna and Marcus from Algalita telling me that when they went out to the North Pacific gyre, they attached some compostable cups to the back of the boat and dragged them through through the water for the entire trip. They did not break down. At. All.

  63. Clif says:

    I’m happy to say that the biodegradable shipping popcorn does as it says – as long as there is water available. I took a bunch and put it in a pot of water. It turned into something like soapsuds. I think it’s made from corn starch.

    Congrats on the ABC report. They mentioned you were from the East Bay. Maybe you can start a whole different kind of Baywatch!


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