Compostable wares are capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site. After a short period of time (depending on the product and the composting site), the product is not visually distinguishable. It also breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with those of known compostable materials (such as leaves).

Many compostable products are made of biobased materials derived from renewable agricultural and forestry resources such as corn, soybean, bamboo, sugarcane, grass, and cellulose. Popular products on the market include those made of biobased plastics (such as the corn-based polylactic acid or PLA) and bagasse (a sugarcane byproduct). Paper and molded pulp products may also be compostable if not coated with polyethylene plastic. In addition, there are fully compostable resins that are petroleum-based.

How can I tell if my products are Compostable?

cupsThere are third-party certifications and logos to distinguish products that are compostable according to established industry standards.

To further indicate compostability, many products will have a green or brown stripe and/or the words “compostable” written on them. While purchasing only products that are third-party certified as compostable is strongly recommended, other products such as paper food service ware may be also be accepted by composters. Check with your local composter to determine what is acceptable.

 

How costly are these products?

Many factors affect the cost competitiveness of products: distribution, quantity, material, etc. For several years now, many compostable products have been price competitive with their paper counterparts. When compared to polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam), few products are price competitive. However, the rising cost of oil has increased the price of petroleum-based products, making compostables – which have become more “mainstream” in the market – increasingly competitive with traditional plastic products. In addition, food service operators may experience cost-savings from reduced collection areas and reduced trash hauling and tipping fees.

Is it important that compostable products are composted?

Compostable products should end up at a commercial composting site that accepts compostable food service products. Line up a composter when making the switch to use these products and work with them to test products slated for use in order to ensure they will indeed compost in their system. Check out findacomposter.com to find a composter near you.

How are these products collected for composting?

One benefit of using compostable products in food service is that they enable food waste diversion. Food waste commingled with compostable packaging diverts one waste stream from landfills that was previously two waste streams. No cleaning or washing of the compostable products are needed for recovery. They can be put straight into the compost bin with any remaining food scraps; they will decompose together in a compost pile. Customer participation is an easy one-step process. Convenient access to properly labeled bins is a key to good participation.