The food service industry is starting to save resources by composting. Organic matter like kitchen scraps and wasted food can be composted. Certain types of food service items like dinnerware, cutlery, cups and straws can also be composted. Institutions and restaurant, as well as consumers, are learning how to help save resources by reducing waste.
Disposable plates, bowls, cups, knives, and forks are definitely convenient. They may be preferred over washable, durable, re-usable dinnerware and cutlery for several reasons. Some places – especially schools – lose too many items to pilfering. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to provide disposable items instead of stocking, washing and maintaining a large supply of durable dinnerware. If many customers take their food “to go,” the packaging needs to be cheap and disposable. Many kitchens, restaurants, and dining halls have started composting programs for organic material such as uneaten food. This creates a new problem: scraping left-over food off the plates. If the plates were compostable, they could go right in the composting bin with the scrap food! While we are at it, compostable cutlery and napkins would make the program a no-brainer for the diners.
How can buyers in the food industry tell if an item is compostable? The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in the US offers a special seal. Products that meet the commercially composting standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) are eligible. A simple Google search reveals a large selection of items that have the “Compostable BPI US Composting Council” seal.
The question of cost is foremost to any institution trying to balance the budget. In recent years, many compostable products have come down in price and are competitive with their paper versions. Insulating Styrofoam remains cheap. The high price of oil has raised the cost of plasticware, bringing it on par with compostable counterparts. Any calculation must take into account the cost of hauling away trash and putting it in a landfill or incinerator. This costs money and damages the environment.
“Compostable” is different from “biodegradable.” In theory, biodegradable means it will break down in a landfill within 1 to 5 years. The reality, however, is that items in a landfill are essentially entombed without much air, moisture or light. They break down very slowly, if at all. Here are some other differences:
|Breaks down in a composting bin in 3 to 6 months
|Breaks down in a landfill within 1 to 5 years (in theory)
|Breaks down into biomass, CO2 and H2O
|Breaks down into many types of components, including toxins and heavy metals
|Resulting products can support plant life
|Resulting products may not safely support plant life
|Requires moisture, heat, and microorganisms to break down, which are in a composting bin
|Requires moisture, heat and microorganisms to break down, which are not in a landfill in abundance
A well-managed composting program can scale to any size. Food and compostable food service items break down in a matter of months. The process can be sped up by using composting worms, such as Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm’s Red Composting Worms. We have shipped out champion composting worms to many restaurants, schools, hospital cafeterias, airports, sports stadiums and other institutions.
Whenever you get food in a take-out container, ask if the package is compostable. If so, place it in your composter at home when you are done. Don’t have a composter? Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has a selection of composters and composting worms to get you started. We also offer complete instructions to get you started, as well as a blog, social media channels, and a newsletter.
Composting connects the consumer with their actions. They are asked to observe the food disposal rules posted at the trash, compost and recycle bins. This requires them to think about their impact on the earth. Participating in a composting program is also an excellent learning opportunity for school children. Compostable dinnerware makes the system easier to use, and the costs can actually be lower than using disposable items. What a great way to help the earth!