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Archive for August, 2010

Is the New Green Really Green?

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The library is gearing up for fall semester, it’ll be here before we know it. Announcements will fly out the door soon enough. But if you’re looking for something to read in the meantime, take a look at this well-researched article on compostable food and beverage containers from my hometown paper, The Herald (the home page is in Everett, Washington.


Some of this came to my attention recently on Howard Garrett’s site when someone suggested testing the new Sun Chips compostable bag in his compost pile. It took a long time there to begin to break down, but it finally did show signs of losing the battle to compost micro-organisms.

The article published Aug. 15, 2010, is called “What Packaging is Compostable? It’s Complicated” and is by staff writer Sarah Jackson. Here’s the beginning of the article:

Compostable is the new organic.

It’s a word increasingly showing up on food and beverage packaging.

Disposable cups, take-out containers, throw-away cutlery and potato chip bags emblazoned with the word are trickling into restaurants, grocery stores and coffee shops.

It means the material in question will biodegrade or break down into compost, a valuable, mulchlike material that gardeners use to improve soil and stop weed growth.

But, in an age of businesses eager to promote an eco-friendly image, the definition of compostable is changing quickly and causing widespread confusion.

If you think you can throw all compostable products in your backyard compost, think again.

Some compostable products will break down easily only if they make it to a commercial composting facility.

Others won’t break down at all because they simply aren’t made of the right materials, said Steve Mojo, the executive director of the New York-based Biodegradable Products Institute, which runs a national program that certifies compostables.

“There are many people out there that make claims that are, frankly, misleading,” Mojo said.

Even legitimately compostable packaging materials can be perplexing to consumers because many of them look exactly like traditional plastic products.

In much of the new compostable packaging, traditional plastics are replaced with similar looking, but biodegradable, corn-based plastics.

And, some corn-based plastics have No. 7 recycling symbols printed on them. But they shouldn’t go into your recycle bin with your soda bottles.


You are not alone.

Though it is in the typical 1-sentence paragraph style found on many online newspapers, it’s worth the choppy presentation to read the whole thing. This is the science that will allow environmentally-minded consumers to make good choices, and to vote with their pocketbooks. Tell your fast food establishments you want them to serve you on a better type of disposable container.

There are a lot of good links included (like the Sins of Greenwashing and ground-breaking composting researchers Cedar Grove Composting in Everett –

Written by dwyer

August 15th, 2010 at 11:36 am