Use biodegradable dishes and flatware
Biodegradable dishes and flatware are made from materials that compost readily, making them a more sustainable choice than plastic. For those events when only easy clean-up will do, these make an excellent alternative to paper plates and plastic or Styrofoam cups.
Find it! Biodegradable tableware
Biodegradable doesn't just mean sustainable, it can also mean chic. Here are some products to consider at your next event:
Cutlery is made from non-GMO wheat or corn crops and can successfully be composted in 3-6 weeks. The wheat cutlery is safe for people with gluten allergies, and both kinds can safely be used with hot foods or beverages.
Bagasse is the fiber that remains after sugar cane is processed for its juice. It is a readily renewable resource that is usually incinerated after the sugar-making process, though it provides an earth-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics.
These cups are made from NatureWorks polylactic acid (PLA), a material derived from corn grown in the USA. They are fully compostable and degrade into water, carbon dioxide and organic material, though they are indistinguishable from conventional plastic in appearance, function and weight.
These place settings are made from switchgrass, a North American perennial grass, and coated with a layer of corn starch for durability. They can be washed and reused, but eventually are an excellent source of nitrogen for your compost pile.
These clear, biodegradable PLA plastic food containers come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Intended for use with cold food, these canisters come with a yellow screw-on lid. One-use options are also available.
Bleached paper fibers are no good for you or the earth. Choosing unbleached, naturally biodegradable options means less pollution. And these are made from 100 percent recycled fibers, making them a good addition to any eco-event.
Tree-free, reusable, and 100 percent compostable, these stylish, nontoxic dishes contain no plastics or waxes and are chemical- and bleach-free. They're also safe in the microwave and the refrigerator and come in plates, bowls, cups, and serving dishes.
These utensils are made from 80 percent non-GMO corn starch, and 20 percent biodegradable filler material and can handle temperatures up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Each set is wrapped in compostable packaging as well.
Using biodegradable dishes and flatware helps you go green because...
- They will break down naturally and safely, unlike disposable dishes made from petroleum-based materials that can release contaminants into the environment while in landfills.
- A dish made from bagasse uses material that would otherwise go to waste.
For big parties, picnics and barbecues—at home or the office—using disposable dishes and cutlery is often more convenient than relying on reusable ones. The use of disposable dinnerware is common; Americans toss out about 25 billion polystyrene cups per year. But, throw-away dishes create mountains of waste, and when they're made of non-renewable petroleum-based materials they can release contaminants into the environment as they break down in landfills.
In the 50 years or so since its invention, over 1 billion tons of plastic have been produced. Dr. Anthony Andrady, author of Plastics in the Environment, praised by the plastics industry and environmentalists alike, points out that except for a tiny amount of incinerated plastic, every single bit of this 1 billion tons of plastic is still in the environment. Not only do plastics end up in landfills, they also cover large areas of the ocean with floating refuse. An area of the Pacific Ocean—10 million square miles, or about the size of Africa—has been dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Dump: it's filled with industrial flotsam, 90 percent of which is plastic. About 80 percent of this plastic is discarded on land: blown from garbage trucks and landfills, spilled from rail cars, and dumped down storm drains. Due to winds and ocean currents, these plastics end up in this giant floating garbage dump. There are six other known oceanic gyres, also collecting plastic waste.
Biodegradable dinnerware can be made from a variety of eco-friendly materials, including "recycled" byproducts, such as a sugar cane, potato starch, and corn starch. Some options are even made of bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource that can also be safely discarded after several uses without the risk of chemical contamination.
Bio-based plastics, which fall into two degradable plastics categories, are a sustainable packaging alternative to petrochemical-based PET. NatureWorks's proprietary polylactide (PLA) is made from corn or sugarcane (called plastic is made from bagasse, a fibrous pulp left over after sugar cane is processed) rather than non-renewable petroleum. Photodegradable plastics are another option. They do not contain organic additives, but instead, are made of a special type of plastic that breaks down and becomes brittle in sunlight. Produced from renewable materials, bioplastics' synthesis may have less impact on the environment, depending on whether renewable energy is used in production versus fossil fuels. Bio-based plastics are also biodegradable, and compostable under the right conditions.
Despite the best intentions, environmentalists and plastics manufacturers criticize bioplastics, stating that plastics intended to biodegrade rapidly cannot do so properly in modern landfills because of the anearobic environment. Photodegradable plastics also don't adequately break down since they do not come in contact with sunlight after being buried below the surface of the landfill. Since they're unlikely to degrade in a short period of time, they argue, there's very little environmental advantage to these dinnerware options.
Traditional-plastics proponents claim that bio-bottles will throw a monkey wrench into PET and high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics recycling and reuse. They claim that bio-plastics look like PET or HDPE, and therefore will get mixed in and contaminate the pure PET and HDPE plastic streams. To integrate its PLA plastic into commercial recycling efforts, NatureWorks has implemented a large-volume buy-back program to recover its plastics and divert them from landfills.
- biodegradable plastic: Plastic that degrades as the result of the natural actions of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and algae.
- compostable plastic: Plastic that degrades via biological processes during composting.
- degradable plastic: Plastic designed to degrade under specified conditions.
- high density polyethylene (HDPE): Plastic polymer, mainly derived from petroleum, used by the chemicals industry for bottles and industrial moldings. Has a resin code of #2 for plastics recycling.
- polyethylene terephthalate (PET): Plastic polymer in the polyester family, mainly derived from petroleum and used by the chemicals industry for bottles, textiles, and industrial moldings. Has a resin code of #1 for plastics recycling.
- polylactide/polylactic acid (PLA): A biodegradable polyester polymer, generally produced from corn or sugarcane through bacterial fermentation.
- BioCycle - How Green are Green Plastics
- Cereplast, Inc.: Manufactures bio-based renewable plastics.
- Metabolix: Manufactures bio-based natural plastics derived from plant sugars.
- TreeHugger - Party Plates Without Problems
- US Energy Information Administration Kids Page - Recycling Plastics
- The Winnipeg Free Press - Visiting the great outdoors? Be a welcome guest
- 43 Things - Reduce my impact on the environment
- Weisman, Alan, "Polymers are Forever" Orion May/June 2007): 17-25
- Orion magazine - "Polymers are Forever" by Alan Weisman