What Are Compostable Products?
When it comes to compostable products, figuring out which product to purchase is confusing. In many cases, the manufacturer wants to confuse – or green-wash – a product’s attributes to encourage you to buy, or even pay a premium for, their product.
The main thing to remember is that a compostable product is one that, only under specific conditions, will degrade within a set time period, usually 90 days. In addition, these products should be certified by a reputable agency.
How Do I Dispose of Compostable Products?
This is a really important point and worth repeating: most compostable products will only degrade under certain conditions. Throwing them in the garbage, burying, or leaving them in the environment won’t work. You need to dispose of these products properly in a commercial compost facility.
There’s also some evidence that not all commercial compost facilities are capable of breaking down some of the “compostable plastic” items. It’s important to check whether the facility that accepts your food scraps can actually handle these items.
My town has a community composting program. This is a service supported by a municipality that delivers food scraps and compostable products to a commercial composting facility.
In addition to municipal programs, there are a growing number of private organics recycling services that will pick up your food scraps and compostable products.
- Litterless has a great guide to pickup services in each state.
- BioCycle has a searchable database of facilities.
What About My Backyard Compost Set-up?
Compostable products, like compostable cups and bags, that are made from vegetable-derived materials will not breakdown in a backyard compost environment. Backyard composting is ideal for organic scraps, but tossing certain compostable products into your backyard compost bin will not work.
My Compostable Product Picks
Here are my picks for compostable products that work in a commercial composting environment, and where noted, a backyard compost environment.
Aren’t Many Compostable Products Disposable Items?
It’s true that many of these products listed are meant to be used once before being thrown out. My first preference is to use durable, reusable products, but there’s always that party or large gathering where you don’t want to spend hours cleaning up. This is where using those compostable plates and utensils come in handy.
- Food scrap collection bags. I use Natur-Bag 3 gallon bags to line my kitchen pail. They’re a little thin, but I’ve never had breakage.
- Resealable bags. Bio Bag has quart, gallon, snack, and sandwich bags. They’re reusable and durable, but not for hot liquids!
- Trash bags – small. LiveComfort small kitchen trash bags are a great choice for food scrap collection bags. They’re extra thick to hold heavy scraps. BPI & ASTM D6400 Certified.
- Trash bags – large. If You Care 13 gallon tall bags are made from 100% GMO free potato starch and a fully compostable polymer. They’re completely polyethylene and plasticizer free. They also have a 30 gallon version.
- Pet waste. If you’re fortunate to have access to a facility that accepts pet waste, these Bio Bag bags are the ones for you.
Chinet brand is my top pick. Their line of compostable plates, made out of recycled material includes all-purpose, dessert and appetizer plates.
They’re durable, microwavable, and biodegradable in a home compost environment. Too good to be true? I thought so too, but was convinced after reading this post on Green Talk.
A note about paper cups: many are lined with plastic to retain heat and prevent leakage. The problem is that you can’t put these lined cups in either your backyard set-up or in a commercial compost facility. The also can’t be recycled.
It’s important to read the fine print when purchasing cups to make sure they’re not lined with non-biodegradable plastic.
My picks here are lined with materials, such as poly-lactic acid (PLA), that have been certified compostable in a commercial facility. That said, use these disposable items only when you need to!
- Paper cups. World Centric is a reputable, BPI Certified brand. Its coffee cups are PLA-lined to prevent leakage and retain heat. Microwavable and freezer safe.
- Clear cups. Stalkmarket’s clear cups meet ASTM D6400 or D6868 standards. Great for cold beverages.
Stalkmarket brand of cutlery meet ASTM D6400 or D6868 standards and are heat resistant.
Any paper item that isn’t treated with chemicals and/or lined with plastic is acceptable for the compost bin. This includes:
- Paper towels
- Paper napkins
- Tissues (even the ones you used to blow your nose!)
- Coffee filters
- All-Purpose Treated Wipes. Green Works wipes are certified compostable but get a poor grade from Environmental Working Group for their product ingredients. I haven’t found any compostable wipes that get high marks with EWG. The solution? Keep a supply but use only when needed.
- Baby Wipes. Elements Natural & Compostable wipes are made from renewable resources with a gentle non-toxic, plant-based cleansing formula that contains organic chamomile.
- Reusable sponge cloths. If You Care brand is an excellent choice. One cloth is the equivalent of 15 rolls of paper towels!
- IPhone Case. Pela cases are made of Flax shive and a plant-based bioploymer. ASTM D6400 certified.
Supplies for Your Compost System
- Kitchen pail. Hands down, my pick for food scraps collection bin is Sure Close. It’s light and portable, but most important, it keeps the smells tightly locked inside. I line the pail with the Natur-Bag liner to make cleanup easy.
Still in Doubt About Which Compostable Products?
Can’t tell whether a product is truly compostable or not? The simplest solution is to avoid these disposable products and use durable, reusable alternatives whenever possible.