Compostable Plastics Require Special Conditions

By ecoRI News staff

Compostable cups, plates and utensils shouldn't go in the recycling bin, the backyard compost bin or the trash. The only place they seem to perform as advertised is in a properly aerated compost pile, like those run by farmers.

These "green" alternatives to plastics only seem to break down with the steady supply of air, heat, moisture and microorganisms found in professionally managed outdoor compost rows.

Michael Merner, founder of Earth Care Farm, a 30-acre compost farm in Charlestown, said not all items that call themselves "compostable" breakdown.

"It's misinformation to tell people these (products) compost," he said.

Look for products made from corn starch. Brands that seem to breakdown best include ECO Products that use corn plastics like PLA. Look for a list of foodservice items approved by the Biodegradable Product Institute here.

Bamboo products also decompose relatively quickly in commercial compost facilities — and they're reusable. 

Trash-conscious experts seem to agree that the best option for the compostable dilemma is to keep a reusable cup and utensils with you at all times. 

As one blogger put it: 

"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?"