The Problem with “Compostables”

beautiful compost bins_203463499 copy
A number of things I use – such as trash bags, zipper freezer bags and when I have parties the plates, cups and utensils say they are “compostable”. Why the quotes? Well, because most, if not all, of this compostable stuff really only breaks down in a commercial composting facility.

Years ago I purchased some of the first “compostable” utensils for a party I was having. Knives, forks and spoons. My usual way of doing things is to try it first, then if it doesn’t work, figure it out later.

I was really into composting then (and I still am). I had four big composters going. I’m always looking for the simplest way to do something. I had a system of building the pile one year. Then let it sit a year while I start a new compost pile, then turn that first pile over, let it sit a bit again, then use it.

I never turned the stuff except for the end of the year after I finished building the pile (I know, that’s against the rules – you’re supposed to turn it regularly). I just made sure I had the right proportion of leaf waste to kitchen scraps. And I had beautiful soil in only – well, three years. I know most people don’t want to wait that long, but I was in no rush. I figured my system took so long those “compostable” things were sure to breakdown.

Can I tell you I’m still finding bits of whole spoons in my garden? Really! Just dug a few up last week when I was cleaning up the yard where the compost piles used to be.

I’m all about doing the right thing as much as possible when it comes to sustainability, but if you’re purchasing “compostable” plates, utensils, trash bags and the like, they aren’t going to break down in your home compost pile. This is important to know. Most packaging on the products now say that they only break down in a commercial facility, but it wasn’t listed on the packaging years ago.

If you do have to trash the stuff I still recommend going with the so-called “compostables” because if and when the stuff does breakdown in a landfill it won’t be putting toxic plastic residue into the soil. And many of the items are made from waste from growing rice, wheat, corn and sugarcane. This is a great way to utilize renewable resources, much of which would have been burned as waste.

Here are a few online companies that have great, cool products for your next cook-out or dinner party. Most of these companies have a presence at our local health food stores, Amazon and some even at Costco.
Ecoproducts Store   -this site has a page that shows you their environmental footprint and they have a footprint report (although it is from 2011)
World Centric – I especially like the page on their site that this links to. It will direct you to the how’s and why’s of using compostable items and the problems of plastics and styrofoam. I’ve found World Centric products at Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Market.
I use BioBag product for sandwich bags (I freeze my herbs in these), trash bags and as my compost bucket liners. I love all their products – except for the stuff that’s supposed to replace plastic wrap. If someone can please tell me how to get that stuff off the roll I’d be happy to know. You just can’t get the stuff to unroll. Maybe they’ve changed it. Haven’t needed any sort of plasticky wrap stuff in a year or so.

Last year I decided to start using a local commercial composting service, Kitchen Harvest, and my problem is solved. Because of the heat that develops in a commercial composting facility he even takes bones, fat, oil, meat scraps and dairy! It’s a win-win! No more spoons in my garden! Yay!

ps – my composters never looked like the beautiful ones in the photo.

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