Thursday, March 25, 2010

Should I Use Compostable Products (if my city doesn’t offer curbside composting)?

We recently had a very smart question come through from a new Viv business – Crave Catering + Events – based in Brooklyn, NY. After responding, I thought we should share the response with other Vivers who may be wondering the same thing. Enjoy!

The Question Went Like This:

“Are the compostable plates biodegradable…as in if we throw them out and they end up in a landfill somewhere will they biodegrade?
At Crave we currently don’t compost, but we do food recycling. We use a system called bokashi, but we are not able to use that on compostable products… I was hoping to figure out another alternative because I certainly don’t want the plates to end up in a landfill and just sit there.”

My Response:

The bagasse / wheat straw plates are biodegradable, but in an anaerobic environment such as a landfill they will take significantly longer to breakdown (likely a few years… as opposed to 30 days in a commercial composting system or 90 days in a home composting system).
I’d say a few things:
  1. Since composting isn’t offered by your city, you could
    • create a home composting system, or
    • look-up a composting facility near you that may offer pick-up or drop-off using FindAComposter.com
  2. You may want to check with the folks at Vokashi (Crave’s Bokashi Partner) to see if their system can be used on “bagasse” products specifically. I could see it not working with things like compostable cutlery which have a longer biodegradation cycle, but bagasse products break down quite quickly and in the right amounts it may work with Bokashi.
  3. Obviously, composting the products is ideal and if you can do #1 or #2, fantastic. If not, there are still quite a number of benefits to using compostable products, which I think are pretty powerful. To name a few:
    Less Energy Used –World Centric is able to make >3 bagasse plates for every one styrofoam plate that’s made (and 2 forks for everyone 1 plastic fork)
    • Less Dependence on Petroleum – By using compostables made from sustainable materials we’re reducing our dependence on oil
    • Less Damage via Externalities to Mother Nature – Products like styrofoam (as well as some plastic products) are harmful to the planet in ways beyond the fact that they add to our landfills (e.g., styrofoam often breaks up into small pieces which are toxic to animals & marine life; styrofoam & some plastics also leach toxins into our ground water; the list goes on)