Guest post by: Dinesh Thirupuvanam
Chefs all across the country are embracing sustainability. Whether it’s buying organic produce, sourcing grass fed beef, or buying local, these food lovers are starting to view sustainability as core to all aspects of their business. As a result, many chefs and restaurateurs have started to move away from traditional petroleum based plastic food packaging and are now using “compostables.”
What is Compostable Food Ware?
Compostable food ware is a form of food packaging made entirely from renewable resources. These products are available in many of the same sizes and shapes as plastic or Styrofoam products and they can be certified as compostable in a commercial composting facility. Typical materials used in the construction of compostable food ware, include:
- Corn / Polylactic Acid (or PLA) – Most of the compostable clear plastic containers and cups being made today are from PLA. PLA is a fully compostable bio-polymer made from corn. Natureworks LLC is the largest manufacturer of PLA pellets and these pellets can be molded into a variety of compostable plastic cups & containers.
- Sugarcane / Bagasse – Bagasse is a by-product of the sugarcane production process. When sugarcane is pressed for it’s juice, the remaining fibrous material is bagasse. Bagasse can be dried and formed into paperboard, which can then be molded into a variety of different containers.
- Paper lined with PLA – Paper products such as hot cups or paper bowls are also fully compostable, so long as they’re lined with a bio-plastic such as PLA and not with a petroleum based plastic like polyethylene.
How to Make Sure You’re Purchasing Compostable Food Ware that is Actually Compostable
For compostable food ware to be certified as 100% compostable in a commercial composting facility, the products must be tested and meet the standards provided under ASTM D-6400, ASTM D-6868, or EN13432. These standards ensure that any compostable product will biodegradade by 60-90% in 180 days, will disintegrate to pieces of 2 millimeters in size or less, and will have concentrations of heavy metals below the limits provided.
Once products meet one of these standards, they can then be certified by a 3rd party. The leading North American certifier is the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), who provides a full list of all products that meet the above standards and are certified as compostable.
Important Note: The above standards and certifications will ensure that products are compostable in a commercial composting facility. Certified compostable food ware products will take significantly longer to break down in a home or backyard composting environment, as these environments do not reach the same high heat levels of a commercial facility. Manufacturers should be able to provide specifications on the biodegradation times for products in varying environments.
A Warning regarding “Biodegradable” Products
Some brands (e.g., Taterware) have labeled their products as “biodegradable.” These products are in essence green washing and have passed no tests for compostability and have no time requirement for biodegradation (i.e. calling a product biodegradable means it will eventually break down, but it may take several years or more). We strongly recommend not purchasing these products.
Where to Purchase Compostable Food Ware
A variety of manufacturers and retailers exist, but we recommend consulting the BPI’s list of approved products and vendors first to ensure that you’re purchasing supplies that are 100% compostable.
Dinesh Thirupuvanam runs an Eco Buying Group for small businesses called the Viv Biz Club. Viv helps businesses pool their purchasing power to save up to 80% on sustainable products, including compostable food packaging supplies, corn cups, and recycled office supplies.