SustainAbility: Outdoor dining

The easy living of summertime ushers in outdoor dining replete with disposable plates, utensils and cups.

Compostable foodware is cropping up all over the Grand Valley as a sustainable alternative to disposables. While compostable dining accoutrements can be a great solution, a little education is in order.

You can purchase a wide variety of compostable foodware at our local Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. The store carries lines from Terra Ware, Ultragreen and World Centric made from sugar cane fiber, wheat straw, cornstarch resin or a mixture of corn and talc. Unlike petroleum-based products, these are made from renewable resources, frequently cellulosic byproducts.

It is important to read the packaging to get the real scoop about what you are buying. Close examination revealed the products require composting at municipal or industrial facilities.

The cutlery packaging states it requires six months to disintegrate even under those conditions.

I know from personal experience backyard composters are not effective for most of the foodware. The only success we had was with a compostable container used for restaurant leftovers. Our home system had little effect on cups and didn’t even begin to break down spoons and forks.

The Biodegradable Products Institute created a certification system in 1999 for “truly compostable” products that meet very specific requirements. The BPI website, http://www.bpiworld.org, emphasizes the importance of scientifically based standards for materials placed in large composting facilities.

According to staff at the Mesa County Solid Waste Management landfill, higher temperatures at a commercial composting facility are needed to break down compostable foodware.

The Mesa County composting facility is permitted to accept compostable foodware and is creating the necessary infrastructure for early stages of that endeavor.

The facility has received phone inquiries about composting foodware and has accepted carefully monitored certified items from events and worked with a local restaurant during a brief pilot program. These items were collected in BioBags, which are also compostable, and have not caused any problems with the composting process.

The facility is approving certified compostable foodware on a case-by-case basis. Call solid waste director Cameron Garcia at 242-7436 to learn more about the approval process. Items marked “biodegradable” do not break down completely during composting, leaving little bits of material which affect compost quality.

Eco-Cycle, an innovative nonprofit recycler in Boulder County, has been collecting compostable materials in addition to recyclables for a long time. For more than seven years, compost collection from the commercial sector has been standard procedure. A specialized program for zero waste events has included compostables for more than 10 years.

Compostable materials collected by Eco-Cycle, including compostable foodware, are taken to A1 Organics near Stapleton. You can visit the Eco-Cycle website at http://www.ecocycle.org.

For the past three years, waste haulers operating inside Boulder city limits have been required to offer residential customers curbside compost collection as well as single-stream recycling. Compost collection guidelines include compostable foodware. Waste haulers take the compostable materials to commercial compost facilities in the area.

When you send compostable foodware to a landfill, the products cause more harm than good. Landfills create anaerobic conditions, the absence of oxygen, and in that environment organic waste produces methane.

In 2009, I attended a Green Festival in Denver where all of the vendors were required to use compostable foodware.  When you were done eating, the compostable items went into separate receptacles so they could actually be composted in the proper manner.

Local establishments and residents using compostable foodware can learn from that example. Unless compostable foodware is properly handled after use, you can’t complete the cycle and reap the true benefits.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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