Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Take-out containers: Plastic, bio-plastic, or biodegradable?

Gerardo Moceri, owner of Gerardo’s Italian Restaurant in Sedona, is really trying to do the right thing. He’s created a 5 year sustainability plan and made a lot of changes to make his restaurant more sustainable. But deciding what take-out containers to use has been complicated. We discussed adjusting portion sizes to eliminate the problem at the front end, but still some people will not finish their meal and want to take it with them. Visitors can't be expected to bring their own containers.

A few things were clear: a big 'No' to Styrofoam containers. He’s found waxed paper containers which might be composted, but of course, most people won’t compost them, so they’ll create methane in the landfill. Around Sedona, where we don’t yet have widely deployed composting services, Sedona Recycles recommends using a plastic take-out container called Ecopax (a #5 like yogurt containers) in beige which is easy to recycle along with yogurt containers.

Since we have so many visitors, he often provides a fork. He knew plastic is bad; that’ll just end up in the landfill. He’s engaged his rep from Greco and Sons to help him find alternatives. Randy Plath showed up with bio-plastic forks made from plants and biodegradable forks. “What’s the difference?” I asked. “Is the plant-based plastic also biodegradable? Isn't the biodegradable one also made from plants?” He needed to double-check.

Ack, it's frustrating. That's why Moceri wants to serve as a resource for other restaurants. If he figures out the best answer, the others don't have to do all the research themselves.

I told Gerardo that perhaps he should just go buy a bunch of cheap metal forks from Goodwill. Customers could take them home and use them to stir up their pet’s food. If travelers didn’t want to take them home in their luggage, hotels could add the forks to their metals recycling.

Just because something is labeled as biodegradable, it may not easily break down in nature or in your backyard compost pile. Many need industrial compost generate a lot more heat. See my previous post, When Biodegradable Isn’t.

So, more research is needed. But here’s an interesting article about the benefits of bioplastic.
Switching from petroleum-based polymers to polymers that are biologically based could decrease carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons every year. Bio-based polymers are not only renewable and more environmentally friendly to produce, but they actually can have a net beneficial effect on climate change by acting as a carbon sink. But not all bio-polymers are created equal.

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