The other day, there was a little misunderstanding on Twitter. Someone asked where he could take compostables in Decatur, just outside of Atlanta, GA. He meant things like food scraps and coffee grounds, but someone got a little mixed up and thought he meant "compostable" plastic cups. It made me realize that I had no idea how to find commercial composting facilities near me.
This particular fellow wasn't looking for commercial composting, but it did get me thinking...where can folks take that compostable dishware? It doesn't decompose in a regular compost pile, but instead requires very high temperatures to break down, which you're really only going to get in a commercial facility.
Most cities don't have easy access to municipal composting, so what does that mean for all of that "green" compostable plastic? How green is it really?
Unless you're lucky enough to live somewhere like San Francisco with residential, curbside composting, the bulk of that corn plastic, or PLA, is probably headed to the landfill where it won't break down at all.
There are also concerns from the recycling industry. You can't toss that corn plastic in the recycle bin, but many folks do. The increased manpower to sort out bio-plastic from recyclable plastic means increased costs for recycling facilities. As more and more of this stuff enters the market, it becomes more of an issue.
The last concern about food-based plastics is just that: they're food-based. Instead of using land to grow food for people, farmers are growing corn for plastic. That means a higher price tag on corn overall. Remember the riots in Mexico back in 2007 because of biofuel's impact on corn prices?
Bioplastic does have some upsides. Unlike the oil that makes up conventional plastic, corn and potatoes are renewable; we can grow more relatively quckly. In order to receive certification, compostable plastic also must not release toxic materials when it breaks down.
There is also a difference between compostable plastics and biodegradable plastics. The latter will break down in the natural environment, but they don't have the same regulations about releasing toxins as compostable plastics do. I've also seen plastics labeled "biocompostable," but couldn't find any information on how that's certified.
If you're looking to find commercial composting in your area, the EPA has a lookup tool broken out by region on its site. Unfortunately, the link for Georgia-based facilities seems to be broken. There are also state-by-state resources, but not all of these are for commercial composting facilities.
So what do you guys think? Is bioplastic more trouble than it's worth, or do its benefits outweigh its issues?