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Understanding Disposable Products

& How Compostable are Compostables?

October 2019 - by Callie Martin,

Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist, Skagit County Public Works

plastic utensils    bamboo utensils     

compostable bowl        compostable cup          

You’ve likely been here before: Wearing the organizational badge of honor, you’re charged with the task of purchasing dishware, cups, and utensils for a family reunion, club picnic, or work event. With so many disposable options to choose from, how do you decide what to buy? Let’s walk through this together.

Traditional Plastic

The main offender of disposability is petroleum-based plastic ware. These items have been sold for several decades and include Styrofoam cups, plastic cold cups, straws, plastic cutlery, and lids for paper coffee cups. Nothing from this group of serviceware can be recycled. Currently, the best place for most of these items after single-use is the trash can. Best efforts for reuse could be washing them to use at another time, though they are less durable than other materials.

Compostable Plastic

   biodegradable cutlery comp plast cup   

A bit tricky to decipher from traditional plastic, compostable or plant-based plastics were all the rage beginning in 2010. Compostable plastics come in the same forms as traditional serviceware, and today there is a compostable plastic alternative to just about any traditional plastic item you can find. Many thought compostable products might end the destructive impacts of plastic pollution, and create a less wasteful disposable option for activities on the go.

An important characteristic of compostable plastic is that it is meant to break down in an industrial-scale composting facility, rather than a backyard compost pile. This is because a typical backyard compost pile does not grow hot enough to break down the chemistry of compostable plastics.

If you have access to a collection bin that is hauled to a composting facility, compostable products are an acceptable alternative to traditional plastic. However, we have a second caveat at play. Industry studies have found that many compostable plastic serviceware items do not break down fully during the industrial composting process. Bits and pieces of compostable plastic are found floating about the finished compost. The impact of this lowers the market value for finished compost products, and deteriorates the future success of community composting systems.

While compostable to a certain degree, nothing in the compostable plastic family is recyclable in the blue curbside bin. Combined with the confusing fact that these products look a lot like traditional plastic, compostable plastics aren’t the obvious answer to plastic pollution we were hoping for.

Wait though, compostable plastic MUST be better than traditional plastic. Right? It is true, when compostable plastic enters as litter into the environment it does have an easier chance of breaking down without adding as much pollution as traditional plastic. Letting it out of our hands and into the environment without proper disposal has never been the goal though, and shouldn’t be something to bank on.

If you find yourself heading in the direction of purchasing compostable plastic for your next event, be sure to use the following guidelines:
 

  • Purchase compostable plastic if the only other option available is traditional plastic.
  • Make sure any compostable plastic purchased is ASTM 6400 or ASTM D6400 Certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. This guarantees is can break down fully in an industrial-scale composting operation.
  • Be sure you have access to municipal composting in the form of a curbside green cart or yard waste pick up service.
  • Check with your local industrial composting facility to verify that they accept compostable plastics for composting.
  • In Skagit County, yard waste carts are hauled to Skagit Soils, where compost is made on an industrial-sized scale. Currently, compostable plastics are not accepted for composting at Skagit Soils or anywhere in Skagit County.

 

 

Compostable Paper

Since soiled or dirty paper cannot be recycled, it is often a great option to compost it instead. There are an array of compostable paper products out there for use at gatherings and events. In order to be composted successfully, paper serviceware needs to be unlined. This means no thin, traditional plastic liners on the tops or bottoms, or around the inside of the paper. Though regular bleached paper can be composted without much consequence, the gold-star standard for compostable paper serviceware would mean the products were not only unlined, but also unbleached. Compostable paper products do eliminate the issue of plastic pollution entirely, as they compost very effectively using industrial composting methods. It is important to remember that paper products do have a significant impact on the environment through natural resource use. When trying to move away from plastic, compostable paper products offer a good transition.

Follow these guidelines if you want to host your next event using compostable paper products:

  • Paper coffee cups are often lined. Be sure to purchase only those treated with polylactic acid (PLA) as the form of liner, as it can be fully composted. Eco Products offers a variety of options for PLA lined compostable paper products.
  • Ideally, look for unbleached paper products. These will usually be brown in color, rather than white. If brown can’t be found, white is okay too!


Bamboo & Wooden Products

Another disposable alternative you may have placed on your radar are wooden or bamboo products. These items are often one hundred percent compostable, and offer a good alternative to both traditional and compostable plastics. Compared to other large-scale crops, bamboo comes out ‘greener’ than most with regard to the overall environmental impact. A fast growing grass, it requires no fertilizer and self-regenerates from its own roots, so it doesn't need to be replanted. The downside to bamboo and wooden serviceware are that they are often expensive. Greenwave, Bambu Veneerware, and Green Paper Products offer bamboo options.



Washable & Reusable

The best thing to do for Mother Earth is to avoid disposable options for serviceware altogether.

 

      ceramic mugs

 

Washables do take resources to create, and use water to clean, but after a certain amount of uses create little to no additional pollution. When choosing what to buy, talk to other organizers. Purchasing washable plates, cups, and silverware may actually prove less expensive over time. Consider hosting gatherings or meetings in a space that already has washable dishware available to borrow, like a church or community center. Come up with solutions for dishwashing, or better yet, have everyone invited to the event bring their own plate, mug, and silverware from which to enjoy the meal. This creates a larger sense of community, and sometimes even a way to meet new friends!

 

Beyond the Bin!

New Guide Helps Move On Those ‘Hard-to-Recycle’ Items

beyond the bin cover 7 29 page 01          beyond the bin cover 7 29 page 42

Ever wish you could recycle those old electronics, packing materials, paint, Styrofoam, rubber, tires, lightbulbs, batteries, chemicals, cell phones, eyeglasses, hair (seriously), or used cooking oil? Look no further than the new Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide. This tidy little booklet has done much of the work for you, compiling scores of places to recycle those “hard to recycle” items or find a home for things that have outlived their usefulness to you.

Speaking of recycling plastics. By now we all know only limited types of plastics are accepted for recycling in traditional recycling programs. In Skagit County, curbside recycling and drop-off at the Skagit County recycling sites now only accept clean bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs. Easy right? For these programs, it’s the SHAPE of the container—not the number in the triangle—that’s important.

But gosh, you want to recycle other plastics too! Of course, you do. And Beyond the Bin tells you where you can take those other types of plastic, such as plastic packing materials, plastic film, and even the dreaded Styrofoam. For packing materials, Postal & More (Mount Vernon), The Mail Box (Anacortes), and the Sedro-Woolley City Recycling Center are the places to go. Styrofoam is not as easy to recycle locally, but for intrepid recyclers, Styro Recycle Inc. in Renton, The Big Guys in Woodinville, and the Recology Store in King County accept Styrofoam for recycling.

But we’re not just talking plastics here. The guide helps you recycle non-plastic items, too. It clears up all those questions about which battery is which and which is recyclable (why does it have to be so complicated?). Also, find out where you can recycle tires, appliances, electronics, all those myriad lightbulbs, even all half-used crayons, and many more items. And it lists neighborhood cleanup days and all the county and city/municipality drop-off centers for things like hazardous waste disposal, large item recycling, and yard waste.
 
Electronics. Did you know that Americans throw away 2-3 million tons of electronics a year! Computers, TVs, and other electronic equipment contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials that should not go into a landfill. Under Washington’s E-Cycle law, recycling is free for televisions, computers, laptops, monitors, tablets, E-readers, and portable DVD players. Check out Beyond the Bin for recycling locations near you!
 
Zero Waste, here we come! Did you know that recycling options are required at every official gathering and sports facility in communities where recycling services are available to businesses? So, next time you’re planning an event, make it a Zero Waste happening! For Skagit County Guidelines on planning waste-free events, visit the Skagit County Zero Waste webpage

But, why bother? Here’s why—recycling the plastic we use is a critical piece of the solution to the hazards of ocean plastics. Recycling also reduces global warming, saves money, and conserves landfill space. And, it’s simply the right thing to do. Now, the new Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide makes it easier.  

And, there’s one more step you can takethink before you buy . . . opt for products with minimal, recyclable, or no packaging. Ask yourself if you really need (fill in the blank), if an item can be repaired, repurposed, or passed along to someone else. There are many ways to recycle. Some of the outlets in the guide that accept items to recycle may also be a source for buying gently used items instead of buying new.

Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide can be found online at the Friends of Skagit Beaches plastic reduction webpage or pick up a copy around town at locations such as public libraries, your municipal waste disposal and recycling signup desk, or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find a location near you. 
 
Sources:
Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastic Reduction webpage 
https://skagitbeaches.org/our-work/plastic-reduction.html
 
Skagit County Zero Waste webpage
https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Sustainability/ZeroWaste.htm
 
All about plastic film recycling
https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/
 
Planet or Plastic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

Simple and Not So Simple Swaps

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Our volunteers share their best strategies for reducing single-use plastic

Okay, you’ve taken the Plastics Pledge and, according to our survey results, you’re doing a pretty darn good job of reducing single-use plastics and improving recycling. You’re working hard to adopt the four major Simple Swaps:

  • Swap out that single-use bottled water by bringing your own reusable water bottle
  • Swap out that plastic grocery bag by bringing your own grocery totes to the store
  • Swap out that plastic cutlery by bringing your own reusable cutlery when you eat on the go
  • Swap out that single-use coffee cup and plastic lid by bringing your own reusable coffee mug

Now, let’s think about taking the challenge a bit farther. Let’s swap out some of the single-use plastic in our lives that are a little less obvious.

First, identify a couple single-use plastic items you tend to use a lot. Do you eat a lot of single-serving yogurt? Do you buy single-serving chips for school lunches? How about those plastic produce bags at the grocery store? Pick the thing that you use most and figure out how to swap it out for a non-plastic or reusable option.

We asked our many volunteers who you’ve met around the County hosting our interpretive display to tell us what single-use plastic items they use and what they do to reduce their use. Some of their ideas might just fit your lifestyle, too!

Bulk up on bulk foods! The most frequent answer to the question of what single-use plastic you use the most is, as predicted, food packaging. How to avoid all those tubs and plastic jars? Lots of our volunteers buy in bulk. Dale buys spices, nuts, and beans in bulk. Linda buys her tea in bulk. Ellen buys nut butters in bulk. And she buys blocks of parmesan cheese and grates it herself. And Mae buys dried milk instead of milk in plastic containers.

And don’t forget those cleaning supplies and soaps. Maureen buys those in bulk, too! And in the ‘every bit counts department,’ Joan considers dental floss a triumph of packaging over product, so she buys her dental floss in big dispensers.

And bring your own containers. Those plastic produce bags are easily swapped out for mesh bags available for purchase. Craig brings his own cotton bags for bulk items, too. Some stores allow and even reward you for bringing your own containers to buy their bulk products. Linda reports that the Vinegar and Oil store gives you credit for reusing glass bottles.

Speaking of yogurt, Betty has eliminated those single-serving tubs by making her own yogurt in her Instant-pot. Some of our other volunteers have been resurrecting their latent kitchen talents, too. Dale makes her own guacamole and salsa. Maureen and Betty make their own hummus (recipe below). Ellen makes her own salad dressing. Heidi makes her own crackers and granola. And Susan bakes her own bread. And how about using real lemons and limes instead of those little plastic fruit replicas?

And whatever happened to glass? If you must buy packaged goods, look for glass containers, or paper packaged products to avoid plastics. Some products that are still readily available in glass or paper are salad dressing, pasta sauce, honey, wine (thank goodness), bar soap, vinegars, and soy sauce.

But its summertime and what about all those plastic plant pots? They are NOT RECYCLABLE as you know, so don’t put them in your recycling bins. Ruth reports that Sanitary Service Center in Bellingham does take them to recycle. But you have to drop them off there. If you can’t reuse them yourself, Jan reports that Master Gardeners and Native Plant Society have a bin in the parking lot of the Mount Vernon Extension Center for large size, square pots. You can avoid them entirely by buying plants bare root or in plugs. Joe’s Garden in Bellingham sells some plugs of vegetables. And, of course, you can start your plants from seeds yourself.

That’s not all! Do you have some great ideas to help us all reduce our use of single-use plastic? We’d love to hear them. Comment below or send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And look for us at local Farmers Markets this summer. Stop by to say hi and share your simple swap ideas!

 

Easy Homemade Hummus

Got 10 minutes?  Get out that food processor hiding in the cabinet. This recipe can be adapted to your own tastes by adding more/less of some ingredients and topping with your favorite additions such as roasted garlic, pine nuts, roasted peppers, or whatever suits your fancy. Enjoy and pat yourself on the back for not buying that plastic container in the store.

2 to 4 garlic cloves to taste

¼ cup water; additional to thin at end to taste

¾ cup tahini

¼ cup fresh lemon juice, ~ 1 large lemon or 2 small

1 teaspoon salt (substitute garlic salt if you love garlic)

¼ cup ground cumin

15.5 ounce or ~1¾ cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Add garlic cloves to food processor and pulse until minced. Add ¼ cup water, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and cumin.  Puree for about one minute until texture becomes light and smooth (pourable, not thick and pasty). Add chickpeas and puree three minutes until very smooth. You can add more water by the tablespoon to thin the consistency as you like.  Store in refrigerator in sealed container for one week.

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The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

 

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

2019 in sand

Resolve to Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

Okay, we know that New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky. But you’ve already resolved to reduce your plastic waste by taking the Plastic Waste Reduction Pledge in 2018. Remember? So what better time to double-down on your efforts than the beginning of a New Year?

Let’s start with four really easy steps. You’re probably already taking them some of the time. Let’s resolve to take these steps EVERY DAY of 2019.

  1. Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are ubiquitous on beaches and in the oceans. They are ingested by whales and turtles and entangle birds and other wildlife. They are the second deadliest ocean trash to animals. And they are so easy to refuse to use. Just throw a reusable shopping bag and some nifty mesh produce bags in your purse, backpack, or car (wherever would be convenient), and take them with you to use when you shop.  
  2. Refuse to use plastic straws. Plastic straws are everywhere. Over 9 million straws have been picked up off of beaches during International Coastal Cleanups. That has motivated the Ocean Conservancy’s #SkiptheStraw campaign. You can refuse plastic straws by… refusing them. Tell your waiter or that friendly counter person that you don’t want a straw in your drink. If you really love straws or need them for medical reasons, buy some paper straws or one of the reusable varieties that are currently flooding the marketplace and bring them with you when you’re out and about.
  3. Bring your own water bottle. Yes, stay hydrated, but not with water bottled in plastic. Americans purchase over half a billion bottles of water every week even though we have some of the best tap water in the world. And bottle caps are the fifth deadliest trash for ocean animals because they are so easily ingested. Save some money and save the ocean from plastic pollution by bringing your own water bottle. Nothing fancy needed. Make it a habit to have one everywhere you go.
  4. Bring your own coffee cup. We wish we could say it ain’t so, but those paper cups that hold your to-go coffee are lined with plastic. They are not recyclable and let’s not forget the very obviously plastic lids that cover them. Do the ocean a favor and bring your own coffee cup instead. Again, nothing fancy needed, just a simple ceramic one from your cupboard will do the trick. Make it a habit and it will become a habit!

Take our Plastic Pledge, mail it in, and we'll contact you about picking up your reward - a free reusable shopping and produce bag.

Have a lovely new year and thank you for doing your part to reduce plastic on our shorelines and in the oceans in 2019.

Source: Wilcox, C., Mallos, N.J., Leonard, G.H., Rodriguez, A., Denise, B., 2016. Using expert elicitation to estimate the impacts of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. Mar. Policy 65, 107–114. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2015.10.014 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X15002985

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

Article submitted by Joan Drinkwin, Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.

Create Memories, Not Waste, this Holiday Season!

christmas 1911637 1920sm

According to Stanford University, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season than any other time of year. This extra trash amounts to 25 million tons of garbage! That’s a lot! The good news is its not difficult to reduce waste during the holidays.

Here are seven things we all can do to prevent waste this holiday season. 

  1. Eat, drink, and be merry without single-use plastic. All those party plates and platters may look festive, but they will last long after the holiday season has ended. Use real cups, dishes, and cutlery at your holiday parties. And bring your own cup, plates and cutlery on the go, so you can refuse those ubiquitous to-go cups and containers when you’re out and about.

  2. And while you’re at it, join the clean plate club and avoid holiday food waste. The average American household throws away $2,200 worth of food every year. Yikes! Avoid contributing to this shocking statistic by preparing food for the holidays in reasonable quantities and make sure you and your family eat those leftovers! And avoid food gifts unless you are sure they will be appreciated and eaten!

  3. Use natural materials to wrap gifts and reuse wrapping materials. Forgo traditional wrapping paper and plastic tape and use newspaper, recycled paper, or even fabricto wrap gifts. Use twine or cloth ribbons to secure. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.                

  4. Ditch plastic decorations. Refuse "fake snow," which is often made from finely ground polystyrene. Choose reusable decor over disposable, and real garland over plastic. Avoid decorations packaged in unrecyclable plastic.

  5. Recycle Right. Contamination of the recycling waste stream is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics landing in landfills. Keeping abreast of what goes in those plastics recycling bins is important. In Skagit County, if you have curbside recycling you can recycle clean bottles, cups, jars, jugs, and tubs. If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can recycle clean plastic bottles and jugs, but not cups or tubs. Easy right? Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle recycle triangle.               
  6. Don't purchase gifts in unrecyclable plastic packaging (like clamshells/oyster packaging). This packaging is not recyclable in Skagit County or in most other places in the nation. Seek out gifts that are unpackaged.

  7. Give gifts of time and experience instead of more packaged “stuff.” Some great options are theater or movie tickets, an afternoon roller skating or bowling, a special lunch date, or coupons for time spent together.

Enjoy the holidays with your friends and family as a time to be together, to cook and share stories.

Create memories, not waste! Happy Holidays!

 Sources:

Stanford University https://lbre.stanford.edu/pssistanford-recycling/frequently-asked-questions/frequently-asked-questions-holiday-waste-prevention

The Plastic Pollution Coalition https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2016/12/16/5-ways-to-reduce-plastic-for-the-holidays

Friends new plastics project, Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition, is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division and Friends of Skagit Beaches. For more information about this project or to volunteer, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Article submitted by Joan Drinkwin, Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.

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