December 17, 2007

PLA plastic surprise

Today I grabbed some to-go spring rolls from one of our favorite places. I've posted before about how great their composting efforts are at that restaurant. Usually we eat at the counter and dispose of any materials in the restaurant's compost and recycling bins.

Today I took the food home. Before I composted it, I gave a call to our local recycling center (which picks up our compost curbside). As I suspected, the plastic packages that held the rolls are neither compostable nor recyclable in our system! How majorly confusing.

PLA plastics are made from renewable resources rather than petroleum. The packages say "compostable" right on them. They also show the recycle symbol #7.

Turns out though, that to compost PLA you need specific conditions. Our center told us that the manufacturers of PLA use different methods or materials, so composting needs vary between them. Until they standardize they cannot accept them for compost. I asked if I could put it in recycling, since it says it is a #7 plastic, but was told that we could not because PLA plastics "gum up the machines."

So, moral of the story is, check with your recycling center to be sure PLA plastics are accepted before you decide which bin to throw them in. What seems like an eco-choice (plant based-plastics) may be a little ahead of its time.


Anonymous said...

Exactly, MGG.
I have been touting the PLA plastics for event usage, but it has to all make it into compost dumpsters to go to compost facilities for it to break down.
We can't do it curbside in Sonoma County, CA in our yardwaste bin because it's not adequately labeled. "And my crew is not going to look for the #7 - "compostable" on the bottom of cups," says Will Bakx at Sonoma Compost.
He just reported back from a compost conference that they won't be able to take it at all, even from events that I green, where we sort compost into four 20-yard dumpsters each year, ensuring that it's all biodegradable. It's not breaking down fast enough according to industry standards, either.
Plant-based plastics are ahead of the industry, way ahead of people, but not such a good idea anyway, as one-time use items - unsustainable. We need to always aim for reusables, bringing our own food service supplies and water bottles everywhere we go!
Green Mary

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of problems with PLA - If we made all of the plastic disposable items used in the world every year, it would take one hundred million tons of corn to make it. That would lead to mass starvation in the third world, as that represents at least 10% of the world's grain supply. Also, in landfills, PLA exudes methane when it decomposes-and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It also takes a huge amount of diesel to grow, fertilize, ship, and process this corn. As a practical matter, it is also not recyclable. The alternative? Oxo-biodegradable plastics. See for full information. -Tim Dunn

Anonymous said...

I commend innovation and the introduction of plastics that will help with the plastic problem. Plastic bottles are a growing problem in our landfills and oceans. We felt that something needed to be done……and now.

We felt that plastics made from crops that could be producing food, wasn’t the answer. In fact we were wondering what would become of all the PLA plastics produced. PLA plastics won't biodegrade in a landfill, and they are not accepted by recyclers as PLA ruins the recycle stream of PET plastics. They must be composted in a commercial or municipal composting site....anyone know where they are?
Additionally, many reports indicate that in addition to causing our food process to rise, the equipment and chemicals used to produce food based bio-fuel may be increasing pollution.

We knew that there wasn’t going to be one “fix it all” answer and began to wonder if anything was ever going to be done. The problem was growing every day, more bottles were being manufactured and more bottles were accumulating in places where we didn’t need them.

We were wondering if “Earth Friendly Bottles” would ever be available?

That’s why we decided to do our part and started ENSO Bottles. We are partnering with other companies to offer a PET plastic bottle that will biodegrade, compost or recycle.

Our bottles can be produced in a clear or colored version, however, clear version isn't quite as clear as current PET plastic bottles but then again that's one way to identify our earth friendly bottle.

ENSO is trying to achieve sustainability with our plastic bottles. Our goal is to make bottles that won’t have the adverse impact on our environment and are made from non food bio-fuels.

We haven't started making them from bio-fuel but that’s high on our agenda and hopefully will be something we can offer in the future.

But for now, we offer a plastic bottle that is earth’s just one step but if we all take just one step toward improving our planet….we will make a difference.

mt said...

I think there is something to be said for PLA, despite the composting issue. There is no BPA for sure in PLA #7 containers.