Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Composting Confusion

We've all seen the signs in stores. "We only use compostable food containers." Which is a good thing, right? Whether made from corn-based plastic or other "plant-derived" materials, they're being marketed as the solution to all our container-waste problems. But, as Luan at Foster & Dobbs found out, they're not exactly the nirvana that her salesman promised.

As Luan wrote in a recent newsletter, "I shared that we're now part of the Portland Composts program and are transitioning to all compostables for our packaging materials. Gleefully I announced that you could extend our efforts by disposing of our new olive tubs, sandwich wrappers, soup bowls, etc. in your green bin at home. A delightfully green plan, eh? Well, no. A customer who works at a waste management company kindly e-mailed me to say these materials are not compatible with the yard waste program—in fact, they cause havoc by jamming the shredding and sorting machines. I called the City of Portland and they told me the same thing, adding that it's a huge problem because these so-called compostable materials can be neither composted nor recycled at consumer level, they can only go to the landfill. They can be composted through Portland's business composting program because it's a different composting process than the yard waste program. This bamboozle is not the fault of the waste companies or the City, that blame goes to the manufacturers who do not clearly state the limitations of their products."

So before you happily fill that "plant-derived" container at your local supermarket, thinking you can toss it in your recycling or composting bin or, worse yet, on your compost pile, ask if you can to bring it back to the store for them to recycle in their commercial program. Or else it's going to end up exactly where you don't want it to—in the landfill.

Top photo from Chow.com. Photo at left from GreenChoiceVendors.com. Photo at right from GreenPaperProducts.com.


EcoGrrl said...

thanks for bringing attention to this...few know that you can't really throw this in your little garden composter...instead they need to allow people to bring their own containers in...new seasons is rather ironic - you can refill your olive oil, almond butter, etc., in the bulk aisle, but in their deli they refuse to fill up containers you bring in. doesn't make sense to me...

jeanie said...

Just as an experiment I rinse a supposedly compostable takeaway container, cut it into a few wide strips, and tossed it in our compost bin. That was several months ago, and it reappears, intact, every time I turn over the compost.

In short, if you can't compost it, it shouldn't be described as compostable.

Deborah said...

I love you blog! Wish someone was doing the same here in Seattle! Keep up the great work!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Great comments!

You'll see a version of this post in a future FoodDay, and I've spoken with New Seasons and am waiting to hear from Whole Foods. Incredibly complex and interesting subject.

And Deborah: Wow! Thanks!