If you feel like you have just learned to navigate the complexities of ordering a coffee amidst expanding menu options, there is a new challenge at hand—how to select the best eco-friendly disposable coffee cup.
Eating at a restaurant with reusable plates, cups and utensils is the preferred option, however, there are times when disposable food service ware is necessary. Take a moment to evaluate the following issues when it comes to food service ware, and you will be more able to make the right choices. Each stage in the lifecycle of the product should be considered.
Disposal is not the only consideration. What goes into a product is also an important consideration when choosing the right food service ware. The following questions may help you make the best choice for your situation:
When it comes to production, choose products that are made from renewable resources, and for which resource collection does not cause disruption to the natural environment:
-is the product made from a plant-based renewable resource? (look for bio-based materials not just biodegradable as these are very different)
-is the product made from material that is a by-product of another process that would otherwise go to waste – such as sugar cane?
-does the product contain recycled content? (look for post-consumer recycled content)
-are chemicals used in the manufacture of the product? (avoid highly bleached items)
-does the product meet any third-party eco certification?
This article gives a good overview of what bio-based materials means and how to evaluate product choices.
When it comes to use:
-if you are using reusable plates, cutlery and cups—do you use non-toxic cleaning supplies?
-are you using water-efficient dish washing appliances?
-do you have kitchen practices that keep water conservation in mind?
-do you strive to buy locally-manufactured dishes/cutlery that are sturdy and well-made whenever possible?
When it comes to disposal:
-how long will it take the product to break down or how long will it linger in the environment?
-is the product compostable and does it meet stringent compostability standards?
-is there a possibility that toxic chemicals could leach out when the product degrades?
-is there a recycling or composting program available for the type of material the product is made from?
-will the product be separated correctly and recycled when recycling/composting is available? (placing a recyclable coffee lid in the waste bin means it will sit in a landfill for many years)
-is a system in place to avoid compostable products from contaminating the recycling waste stream?
A number of issues need to be considered when it comes to waste management, Compostable items that end up in the recycling waste stream are contaminants, thus a clear system for separation must be in place (as an example, if you purchase compostable coffee lids, make sure these don’t go into the recycle bin). Ideally certified compostable food service ware should go into an organic waste stream where it can be composted, but there are still benefits to using these products. Cups and other items that are coated with petro-chemical based liners cannot be recycled–look for items lined with PLA (the product compostable ware is made of).
How do I know I am getting what I am paying for?
To be sure products meet strict specifications, rely on third-party certification such as Eco-Logo or BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) or purchase from vendors that have evaluated items for sale based upon strict criteria (for example, suppliers such as GreenShift or Green Restaurant Association).
Verify compostability claims using third-party certification. Composting is a process through which items (such as food) are broken down into natural components (carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic compounds) that return to the soil without containing any contaminants. Third-party certifications such as BPI, and ASTM 6400 standards indicate that a product can be composted in a commercial facility. The USDA Biobased label indicates compliance with the ASTM D6866 standards.
From the experts
There is a great deal of information available on this topic. Answers to other questions may be found on this website.