Plastic To-Go Containers Are Bad, but Are the Alternatives Any Better?

Single-use plastic bans are showing up across the nation. But compostable plates and forks may not solve the plastic crisis.



On January 1, Berkeley, California rang in the New Year by putting a new rule in place requiring all cafés and restaurants to start charging 25 cents for disposable cups. The cups, in addition to lids, utensils, straws, and clamshells, must also now be certified compostable. This summer, eateries that offer on-site dining will also be required to serve customers using reusable plates, cups, and cutlery.

Berkeley’s ordinance—one of the strongest in the country—seeks to do away with single-use plastics. And it’s one of a slew of new laws that aim to do so. Towns, states, even entire countries, have been moving to ban everything from plastic checkout bags and plastic straws, to plastic food containers and take-away serviceware.

Many municipalities are also requiring restaurants and coffee shops to switch to plant-based compostables for takeout meals. They’re joining several other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, which pioneered such requirements years ago. Even in areas where they aren’t the law, so-called bio-plastics are a booming business, and some food and beverage companies and restaurants have voluntarily made the switch as part of their sustainability plans.

While many have pinned their hopes on these alternatives, some researchers and recyclers caution that an over-reliance on compostable tableware and packaging may not be the solution it’s cracked up to be. In life cycle assessments, it turns out, compostables don’t necessarily outshine plastics when it comes to environmental benefits. And an increase in compostables in the waste stream could, in fact, bungle up the composting process, create more trash, and continue consumers’ addiction to single-use items, detracting from the most environmentally beneficial practices: reducing and reusing.

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“It’s nice to be able to make people feel good about throwing something away, but we’re really not changing their behavior or patterns,” said Jack Hoeck, vice president of environmental services at Rexius, a Eugene-based recycling plant that no longer accepts compostable products. “From a climate change perspective, it would be better to reduce the amount we’re generating.”

Plastic Crisis Spurs Alternative Disposable Products

Recent years have marked a rise in awareness about the detrimental impacts of plastic pollution. Plastic clogs up waterways, floats along the surface of the ocean, kills marine life and wildlife, and is even found in human tissue. New research has also shown that plastic, when exposed to solar radiation, releases methane (a potent greenhouse gas) and ethylene, especially as it degrades.

Seventy-nine percent of the world’s plastic is not recycled. In 2018, the 9 percent that is recycled plastic was threatened, as China banned the import of most plastics and other materials that it used to accept for recycling due to trash contamination issues. Most of that previously recycled plastic is now being landfilled or incinerated.

The recycling quandary has led to an even more urgent search for solutions; thus the turn to bio-plastics. Compostable food serviceware—made from plants such as corn, sugarcane, and bamboo—is also sometimes called “biodegradable,” but that’s a misnomer. It doesn’t decompose in backyard compost bins and needs to be processed at industrial facilities. Currently, only a few hundred of the roughly 4,000 composting facilities in the U.S. have the ability to accept food scraps and a much smaller subset can accept bio-plastics.

The compostable product industry’s call to action is based on the idea that using compostable plates, cups, cutlery and packaging will also cause consumers to compost more food and mitigate the climate impact of the million tons of food scraps and food-soiled paper that are landfilled every year. It also helps to dispose the mass of throwaway items Americans generate in a kinder, gentler way. Early adopters, such as the city of Seattle, which requires all food service businesses to use compostable or recyclable packaging and serviceware, say the model works.

“We have a lot to be happy about; we have diverted thousands of tons of food waste because of this program,” said Pat Kaufman, commercial recycling and composting program manager at Seattle Public Utilities. “We’ve encouraged people to move away from a dead-end product model into a circular model where these materials can break down and go back to feeding soils.”

But not everyone is happy with the increased reliance on compostable serviceware, and some municipalities, and facilities like Rexius, have backed away from accepting them all together. In a report released in October, Greenpeace USA warned consumers to be skeptical of solutions that produce more single-use items and put undue pressure on environmental resources.

“To solve the plastic pollution crisis, companies need to rethink how products are delivered to consumers and invest significantly in reusable and refillable delivery systems,” said Greenpeace.

Flaws in the System

Last year, all of the compost manufacturing facilities that serve Oregon signed a letter stating they won’t accept compostable products. “These materials compromise our programs and limit many of the environmental benefits of successful composting,” read the letter.

The main problem is contamination, as consumers often throw in non-compostable look-alike items into their bins. Removing this trash increases the use of water, energy, and other resources and drives up operating costs, said Hoeck with Rexius, one of the signatories of the letter.

Littered compostable plastic cups photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

When Rexius first began accepting compostables 10 years ago, it only took products that were food related, third-party certified, and clearly identifiable as compostable from 10 feet away (branded, marked, or color coded). Despite these rules, and a robust training and information campaign, constant contamination made sorting a nightmare, Hoeck said. “It’s not practical to pick out 500 little sticks … or to sort out 50 plastic cups mixed in with 100 identical compostable cups,” he said.

Unfortunately, the compost couldn’t be sold to organic farmers because the National Organic Program considers compostable plates, cups, cutlery, and plastic bags as synthetic materials that cannot be used in compost for organic production.

The company was also concerned, he said, that some compostable packaging designed to hold up to wet or and greasy food contains highly toxic “forever chemicals” called PFAS, which can transfer into finished compost and contaminate soil and waterways.

“If the compost is contaminated and people don’t want it or are unhappy with it, it’s not a good business idea,” said Hoeck.

The companies producing compostable products concede that “a small amount of conventional plastic… is commingled and impossible to sort or screen out,” said Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), which certifies compostables. But that problem can be solved, he said. And starting this month, BPI will no longer certify any product that contains high levels of fluorine, a highly reactive element that combines with carbon to make PFAS.

“We have been openly working with composters, municipalities, and states on these topics for years. Just because something is challenging, or costs more, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile,” added Yepsen. Following the BPI standard can help avoid false compostable and biodegradable claims and further compost contamination, he added. But they are only part of the solution.

BPI supports Washington state’s new legislation, which goes into effect this summer and requires better labeling of compostable products while banning the deceptive labeling of plastics. At a hearing for the bill, representatives of Cedar Grove, one of the big composting companies that serve Seattle, testified that it spends over $5 million a year removing plastic bags, forks, and spoons from its compost.

Zero Waste Doesn’t Always Equal Sustainability

Even if contamination weren’t such a big issue, other important questions about the value of composting have emerged in recent years.

“What’s missing from that discussion is the impact of making these compostable items,” says David Allaway, senior policy analyst at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “The fact that something is compostable is a useless predictor of environmental impact.”

Indeed, a 2018 analysis by the Oregon DEQ showed that “compostability is a poor indicator for determining the environmental benefits and burdens of packaging and food serviceware items” and that compostables introduces a set of trade-offs. Instead of just looking at the final result—does it generate waste?—the study used a complete life-cycle analysis, which evaluates the raw materials used, the manufacturing process, the transportation system, and what happens to the waste.

In the case of compostables, the Oregon DEQ reviewed 18 years of life-cycle assessments, including over 1,200 comparisons involving compostable packaging and over 360 comparisons for food serviceware. In most of these comparisons, the production and use of compostable materials (and composting them) was found to result in higher environmental impacts than that of either non-compostable materials, or compostable materials treated via recycling, landfilling, or incineration.

While many people focus on the impacts of disposal, the environmental impacts of producing materials generally can be 10, 50, or 100 times higher than the impacts of disposal, depending on the source materials, packaging, and production process, Allaway said. He added that some compostable items are low-impact while others high impact, but the industry does not provide detailed information on the particulars so consumers can make a choice.

“It’s a little bit of a red herring,” he said. “Taking something and putting it in the landfill feels bad, but most of the damage has already been done by the time you buy it.”

And while food waste produces rich compost that restores soil fertility and helps store soil carbon, some compostable packaging doesn’t produce much compost at all. When it degrades in a composting facility, corn-based PLA—polyactic acid—just turns into carbon dioxide and water. Essentially, Allaway said, it disappears.

It’s also important to note that reliance on compostables doesn’t necessarily lead to more food waste being composted either, Allaway said. In food courts, baseball stadiums, and fast food restaurants, composting bins tend to overflow with plates and tableware, but people eat most of the food they buy when eating out. Most food waste occurs at home, he said, and in restaurant kitchens. So when Allaway hears fast food companies touting compostables as part of their sustainability plan, he mainly sees a marketing gimmick.

“The producers of single use service items have pinned their hopes on composting and the idea of zero waste as a way to justify the continued existence of [those] service items,” Allaway said.

Yepsen with the BPI disagrees. “We clearly need to generate less waste, whether that’s packaging or food waste,” he said. “But let’s not pretend that waste is going away overnight, we still need curbside collection for materials, to find beneficial pathways to get waste recovered.” Promoting compostables isn’t contradictory with “the three R’s”—Reduce, Reuse, and then Recycle, he said.

Cities, Restaurants, and Cafes Push to Reuse, Refill

While some cities and food companies are pushing for compostable products, others are working to promote durable, reusable containers, leading the cultural shift back to reuse and reduce our use of materials.

GO Box, a reusable takeout container service, offers those who buy takeout a sturdy plastic reusable container to eliminate the need for single-use clamshells. The reusable containers are checked out from vendors via an app and then dropped off at designated locations. The company—which is based in Portland but has expanded to San Francisco—collects, cleans, and sanitizes the containers, which are then re-used by other customers. At the end of their lives, the plastic reusable containers are recycled. A similar service, Green GrubBox, also exists in Seattle, and another, Rogue To Go, was recently launched in Ashland, Oregon.

For Here Please, is an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps cafés and restaurants reduce single-use plastics. The organization aims “to disrupt ‘to-go culture'” by putting together customized plans for cafés that want to convert to using reusable cups. The group trains baristas, educates customers face-to-face, helps with media and social media coverage, teaches people to make upcycled coffee sleeves, and provides visual reminders. Last year, For Here Please helped convert Perch Coffeehouse into the first disposable-free cafe in Oakland. The café offers a 25-cent discount to customers who bring their own mug and charges a small fee for renting out a reusable cup or mason jar.

“The financial incentives is huge… if you can’t do anything more about your café’s practices, you can at least offer a discount if someone brings a reusable mug,” said Vanessa Pope, the group’s co-founder.

In Portland, Nosa Familia Coffee started a Zero Waste coffee shop in 2018 where all customers are charged 25 cents for a disposable to-go cup and given 25-cent discount for bringing their own cup. According to the company’s transparency report, the move significantly shifted coffee drinkers’ behavior. The use of a to-go cup was slashed in half—from 66 percent to 31 percent. And 17 percent of the customers brought their own cup. Last year, Nosa Familia introduced the surcharge in all three of its Portland cafés.

Blue Bottle Coffee (owned by Nestlé) is also piloting a zero-waste project for its cafes, aiming to divert at least 90 percent of their waste from landfills by the end of 2020, and asking customers at two of their cafes to bring their own cups or rent one from the café. “We know some of our guests won’t like it—and we’re prepared for that,” Blue Bottle CEO Bryan Meehan wrote in a blog post in December. “But the time has come to step up and do difficult things. It’s our responsibility to the next generation to change our behavior.”

Experts caution that because reusable cups, containers, and cutlery also require raw resources and energy to produce, so they must be used consistently to offset their environmental impact. Despite this, most everyone agrees that reuse is best for the environment.

Those who aren’t ready to require reusable foodware may also resort to shaming. Whether photos of a frowning Greta Thunberg, the teen climate change activist, can lead consumers to skip on the disposable cup or fork remains to be seen.

 

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View Comments (37)

  1. Douglas Tooley
    Friday, January 17th, 2020
    Increased use of reusable packaging is certainly critical, but contamination of compostable streams is not reason to lessen their use.

    As a component of a carbon capture strategy compostable single use has its transitional benefits.

    What we also need more of is responsible journalism to advance the evolution of environmentally compatible tech, not hinder it.
  2. Dave McCall
    Sunday, January 19th, 2020
    Why are plastic to-go items bad? Because the People's Republic of Berkeley said so? The whole rest of this article outlined why we use plastic for to-go items. Plastic has been consistently shown in life-cycle analyses to be the environmentally superior option. That means they are not bad. They are not perfect--but nothing is. Part of the reason we recycle so little of it is the activists thwart efforts to do so. Some years back, McDonald's started an aggressive program of recycling their foamed polystyrene clam shell containers. A perfect solution--the containers were collected at the source, solving one of the more vexing problems associated with recycling. The program was very short-lived. McDonald's caved in to ignorant pressure from an environmental activist group to switch to paper--which uses far more material than a plastic container--and which is impregnated with a wax or a plastic to make it more water resistant, and hence, not especially recyclable. The environmental group crowed about their great success, but the only success was in making equally ignorant people feel good. The decision was a clear loss for the environment.
  3. Dale
    Sunday, January 19th, 2020
    I think we should go back 150 years when waxed paper was used for wrapping food and tin was used for storing food. Totally compostable or recyclable items. Plus with tin containers, they can be reused over and over before being melted and remade into another item.
    I don't understand why weed trees such as the cottonwood, that grow even when a tree is cut down or falls in a wind storm, (I have one that fell and 20 trees grew from it), can't be used for decompostable items.
    There was no plastic problem in the 1800's. People used cloth or knitted bags and wooden boxes when they shopped for food. They also canned food using glass jars with tin lids. They stored flour in flour tip out bins in the kitchen. They dried vegetables and seeds and stored them in wooden bins and in large glass jars.
    We have become a throw away society. Maye we are too rich and don't know how to conserve and carefully deal with our food and items we buy. Things used to be recycled and given to others when we had no further use for them. Clothes were given to family or friends and neighbors. Now, they are simply thrown out.
    • Marie F
      Monday, January 20th, 2020
      And back in the 1800's (and before) lots of people got sick and died of food-borne diseases and contamination. I believe in prudent use of resources, but I'm not going to risk getting food poisoning because of reuse of contaminated packaging. And remember, reusable containers need to be washed, which also uses water and soap which goes into the sewer system. There are tradeoffs everywhere.
      There are already stories about people getting sick from re-use of grocery store bags that were used for meat then re-used for fresh food. I have a set of grocery bags carefully labeled for meat, and I insist that the baggers at the store use only those for meat, and don't put my vegetables into them. But left to themselves, they don't care. We will see a lot more food-borne illness from reusable containers.
  4. Keva
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    More companies using reusable containers is great, but most of the ones in the article I've never even heard of.

    Whatever happened to taking tin cans and glass bottles back to the store to turn in for a discount on the same product? With such widespread businesses like Coca-Cola and Amazon, you'd think they could do similar, where bottles or packaging material is recollected at a drop-off center in major towns, in exchange for a digital coupon which could be used on their websites. All the tech is there, just needs someone to actually start doing it...
    • Alan
      Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
      I dont know why more states dont adopt the 'deposit' program on plastic and aluminum bottles like we have here in Michigan, or Oregon also has a pretty similar program. its only for carbonated beverages though, it would be nice if they also added it for non carbonated. but recycled rates for these bottles are quite high in our state and any 'unclaimed' deposit money at the end of a year goes to a state environmental fund, and a portion of it goes to the locations that actually deal with the takeback to cover their overhead. not to mention that public trash bins where people just throw them away are often scoured by people living on the street to turn in since they have value.
  5. Justin B
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    People could always try the whole "reduce" thing by simply eating out far less.

    Just a thought...
    • gord
      Monday, January 20th, 2020
      Eating out for one or two people can be more efficient than eating from home. Your statement is close to correct. It should read:

      People could always try the whole "reduce" thing by simply eating far less.
  6. Hisako Sato
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    eliminating plastic is a priority - we live in Hawaii & plastic in the ocean & seafood is a problem that is growing
  7. Thomas
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Return to eating like civilized people, sitting down at a restaurant or coffee shop that serves food on ceramic plates and metal flatware that can be used 1,000's of times.
  8. Jerry Motley
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    This article is very informative. I'm the Exec Director for a Special Waste District. We had to close our recycling operations due to costs. We are currently exploring new possible ways to utilize of facilities.. Any suggestions are welcomed... Jerry
  9. Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Are compost able garbage bags also a problem? Our local composting
    program accepts them. They also provide a roll of bags with a composting bin - starter kit. Thanks, Alison
  10. Daniel Gooch
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Good article. A bit confused by your comments on food composting though. when you say "Currently, only a few hundred of the roughly 4,000 composting facilities in the U.S. have the ability to accept food scraps..."

    What ARE they even composting, if not food scraps?
    • MichaelinID
      Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
      My local composting program doesn't compost food scraps, they only accept yard waste- leaves, grass and tree parts. As a gardener I've given up composting my own food scraps because they stink and then the mice show up.
  11. Eswara Ghorakavi
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Reducing or recycling plastic does not solve the problem of default human behavior. To entice customers, both commercial establishments and government (agencies) must offer lucrative incentives for customers to bring their own containers for TO_GO items and leftovers, adopt and offer utensils made out of stainless steel/aluminum/porcelain, paper and/or cloth bags, etc. at low cost for them to fast-adopt these alternatives.
  12. Kathy
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    My daughter's mother-in-law went to Japan a few years ago, they saw a beach made out of recycled glass and the restaurants made you take your trash with you when you left.
  13. Tommy
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    As a small restaurant owner here in Southern California, I would like to get away from using plastics across the board. However there aren't any alternatives to things like plastic gloves, plastic film wrap and takeout containers. I sell soups in styrofoam containers which provide insulation so the food stays hot and doesn't burn the customer's hands when handling said container.

    The majority of my business is take-out, customers won't bring their own cutlery or cups simply out of convenience. To everyone suggesting people just "cook at home more" and brown bag lunches, only 10% of the US population are actually interested in cooking. Time is money so there's that. If I raise my prices to "do the right thing", my customers will go somewhere else.

    I want to be a part of the solution, currently I am part of the problem, so I ask of y'all, what do I do?
    • Ellen
      Monday, January 20th, 2020
      If space allows you could sell insulated containers and offer a discount to your customers who use them - whether they use your branded version or a different one from home. Having a branded soup thermos could be great marketing for you too as more people and more people are interested in reducing waste. You would be a trend setter.
      I used to send soups and hot pasta dishes with my kids to school in these. They keep soup hot - the pasta did not hold heat as well.
  14. Pat
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Puzzling and disturbing title to this article which is in fact helpful and substantive if you read past the headline. Readers might be forgiven for being confused into thinking that it is better to use single use petroleum based plastics than to bring your own cup or bag or do without a straw if they were to read only the headline or decide to believe that the choices are either to use non-biodegradable single use plastic or biodegradable plastics. There are obviously other choices which are better, such as using reusable containers. The article points this out but also may sow confusion and doubt into what is not really even a debate: should we try to reduce the tide of plastic into our oceans and the rest of our planet. We need to reduce that tide of plastics.
  15. PaulG
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    It's clear that the problem is what we've developed as habits - the fact that we are a throw-it-away society, one that is based on convenience instead of responsibility.

    Glass.
    Re-usable containers.
    Cloth diapers.
    Repairable machines and electronics.

    That's what my grandparents, parents and my generation had. And we used it well. There was no need for massive "landfills" back then.

    We need to re-instill the ideals we had back then - that things were precious, built to last, and cost effective only if they could be maintained and re-used.
    • Deb M
      Monday, January 20th, 2020
      The labor to fix a piece of electronic gear, if it's even repairable, is way more than the cost to buy a new one. I don't like it, but I don't know what to do about it. With labor costs so high, repair isn't really an option far too often.
  16. Carl King
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    I think a smarter plan is to implement a commonly recognized system amongst food retailers where the consumer can use their own containers. Food containers can be made from stainless or a multi-use plastic and come in standard unit based sizes or capacity. Walk into a 7-11 with your own cup to get a slurpee or soda. Go to a food court and have them put your food choice in your re-usable food saver.

    Participating in a program like this would require acceptance of liability on your own part, where you don't hold the food establishment responsible for your food contamination.

    Retailers could optionally carry a supply of re-usables. If a customer is a regular at any one place, they can make a one time purchase of the reusable and for each subsequent visit bring in their empty to exchange and the establishment can serve them in a container from their locally sanitized stock.

    The welding gas industry has been doing this for decades with gas bottles. You buy your bottles new one time and it goes into the exchange program when you come back for a refill.
    • Alan
      Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
      I agree with this, but from my understanding there is a lot of red tape around cleanliness and health code type stuff about people bringing their own containers and having a restaurant employee take that container 'behind the counter' or having it basically touching anything that they use for other customers. that's just my basic understanding of why this doesn't happen more.
  17. Yehoshua Friedman
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    I wouldn't eat in a place with a picture of her on the wall anyway!
  18. Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Reusable items are great, but....
    Where is the value of clean water? It takes a lot of water and energy to wash/sanitize the reusable dishware and cutlery for the next customer. If not done thoroughly, we will see an increase of food-borne illnesses.
    Not such a simple answer.
  19. Joe Giant
    Monday, January 20th, 2020
    Flawed premise. Compostable products that end up in landfills become.... compost! So what if they don't end up in special compost locations. Better option than plastic in landfills...
    • Alan
      Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
      garbage in a landfill that degrades or breaks down super slow because its just a pile of garbage is not the same as compost. your argument is more flawed than the one you are responding to.
  20. Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
    I'm old enough to remember eating H Salt Esquire Fish & Chips out of a rolled up London Times. That was the best use for that old rag, that's for sure.
    • Alan
      Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
      Lol James! you have my favorite comment of this whole lot :-) i dont live in the UK, but its still funny to me!
  21. L.B.
    Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
    I agree with other posters that people need to sit and eat or drink instead of always getting things to go. Even street vendors can serve in reusable, non-plastic options. Look at countless examples from other countries and from the past: the ice cream cone, all sorts of food wrapped in different kinds of paper (e.g., fish and chips in newspaper, burritos in parchment paper etc.), mote con huesillo in glass cups, etc. But a lot of restaurants where people do sit and eat serve food and drink in single-use packaging anyway. That needs to stop.

    However, no discussion of the impact humans are having on the environment is complete without addressing population growth. This is the most ignored topic in sustainability. In addition to a culture change, there need to be fewer people.
  22. James
    Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
    One issue that's not being discussed is how all of this ties in to population growth. So many global concerns are connected to it, and it is why so many "how it used to be done" solutions are now dubious. Nobody used to talk about the fresh water cost of cleaning or manufacturing, and no one would be talking about it now if we weren't at a global human population of over 7 billion and growing fast - the water cycle can only sustain so much use.

    There are no easy fixes. People shouldn't stop thinking about problems and how to solve them, but objectivity and a willingness to expand the range of information being considered are key to making real progress. I worry that a society that favors ideas dosed out in 140 characters or less and "debate" responses limited to 90 seconds will never get anywhere good.
  23. Monica Johnson
    Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
    Has anyone every thought of recommending/mandating an environmental class for primary and secondary schools in public schools? It gets kids thinking about the impacts of what we do to the environment and starts asking questions at home which helps parents think twice about some of the actions we do.
    • Alan
      Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
      sure, do you think our government will be able to agree on this to make is possible? sadly.. the answer is no. the only hope is that there are a lot of environmental issues that are starting to bubble to the surface that all Americans agree on. Just not the big picture sadly. and too much corporate money that would have conflict of interest to get something like this approved most likely... sad state.
  24. Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
    Some Bio-polymer food service products can be both reusable as well as cerified compostable in commercial composting facilities. They will also compost in conjunction with food waste via In-vessel composting machines which reduces cube and weight for transportation to composting facilities. These in-vessel composting machine are currently being used in food courts in both shopping malls and airports as well as individual restaurants. This also eliminates the concern of contamination for commercialcomposting facilities.
  25. Friday, January 24th, 2020
    I am Senior Director of Marketing for Eco-Products, a leading brand of environmentally preferable foodservice packaging. I agree that the world of compostable packaging and composting can be confusing. There is no perfect solution when it comes to most sustainability issues, and packaging is no exception. While I strongly believe in the benefits of Eco-Products compostable and recycled content packaging, we’ve never claimed that our products are perfect. I think your piece raised some very important and valid issues society needs to grapple with; however, I would like to point out a few areas where I think the piece missed the mark.

    - The carbon footprint of a package is just one metric. End-of-life destination (compost pile vs landfill), beginning-of-life sources (renewable plants), diverting food from landfills, and the environmental value of finished compost (improved soil heath, better plant growth, reducing erosion and irrigation) are factors too. We shouldn’t oversimplify the issue.

    - Compostable packaging diverts food from landfills, and third-party studies have shown that the amount of food scraps captured in front-of-house because of compostable packaging is significant.
    o Farm Aid study: The Farm Aid 2016 music festival found that front-of-house composting bins were 54% packaging, 46% food (by weight). The exclusive use of compostable packaging resulted in the composter accepting the FOH stream. Had the composter only accepted back-of-house organics, it would have received less than half of the food scraps it collected. Study overview: https://www.biocycle.net/2017/08/10/quantifying-diversion-impact-compostable-packaging; study: https://greenblue.org/work/value-of-compostable-packaging/
    o Eco-cycle study: Eco-Cycle conducted waste audits at 18 foodservice operations to understand best practices for reducing wasted food. Compostable packaging and durables were the most effective approaches to capturing food scraps, where close to 100% of food scraps capture can be achieved with minimal contamination. Food scraps and napkins made up at least 56 percent of the contents of the composting bin in every sector, contrary to the belief that FOH collections are mostly packaging. Study overview: https://www.biocycle.net/2019/08/13/front-house-organics-collection; Study: http://www.ecocycle.org/files/pdfs/Reports/front-of-house-composting-study-ecocycle.pdf

    - While contamination is a concern, more and more companies, like Eco-Products, are working with composters who successfully accept packaging as a feedstock. In addition, Eco-Products has proudly launched a new Vanguard line that is BPI certified – another example of how food service ware companies are constantly seeking new solutions.

    Thank you for considering these additional relevant points, which are an important part of the discussion.
  26. Craig Butler
    Monday, February 17th, 2020
    I think we need 1) reusable/compostable materials that don't have to be composted after only 1 use (can be cleaned and sterilized), and/or 2) Looped economy life-cycle chemistry of materials. Already there is the pyrolysis of plastic polymers that enables re-entry into the manufacturing stream, 3) Auto-sorting technology. All of this is just a matter of chemistry and advances in technologies that I am certain are not far off in development or are already available to implement. Of course we need better barriers to trash winding up in the ocean, but a truly looped economy will have alchemical processes that reuses EVERYTHING. There will be no waste. Its all a matter of new chemistry and other developments. For an introduction to the emergence of these solutions, see ufsolution.wixsite.com/unifiedfieldsolution .
  27. christienne de Tournay birkhahn
    Monday, February 17th, 2020
    Please note that the Berkeley ordinance had several more components to it, rather than just a plastic-ban/compostable takeout foodware switch.
    It is charging a fee to consumers on any single-use takeout cups (whether you stay or go with them), regardless of the material, to address single-use behavior change. And, it requires reusable/durable foodware be used by ANY food service establishment that has even one seat to accommodate a dine-in patron. Switching from the blue bin to the green bin will not save us. We can neither recycle or compost our way out of this mess of single-use behavior. That is the change that Berkeley's Single-Use Foodware & Litter Reduction ordinance was seeking to effect. Getting rid of plastic is just something we need to address at the same time, for many reasons noted.