Doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, is not simple.
Take compostable plastic.
My enviro-heart lifted when our daughter brought home this produce bag from Natural Grocers:
Compostable! Cool! Then I read the fine print. Not suitable for backyard composting.
Our curbside collectors don’t take compostable plastic. In all of the US, only 200 composting facilities accept plastic.* Many more composting facilities could, but they are reluctant to because once people get the idea plastic is compostable, they get lazy and throw regular plastic in with compostable and gum up the works.
My spirits soared again when we found these bags at Trader Joe’s:
I happily tossed it to the worms in our backyard composter before I bothered to look closely. Fooled again. Note the “ASTM D-6400” in small print. ASTM is the American Society for Testing Materials. D-6400 is the certification for compostable plastics. According to Buygreen.com ASTM D-6400 “covers plastics designed to be composted under aerobic conditions in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.”
Not compostable in my backyard bin.
It is good news that there are standards governing compostable plastic. “Biodegradable” plastics aren’t regulated at all (more on that later). Still, for most ordinary householders, compostable plastic is no better than regular plastic.
Bottom line: “compostable” bags at Trader Joes and Natural Grocers are, for most people, as much a marketing ploy as “recyclable bags” are for Amazon. For now at least.
So, for now at least, we’ll have to just try to use less plastic.
Although — it’s not a bad idea to support the market for compostable plastic, to help speed a potential future when all plastic is compostable. If that’s a goal for you, by all means, buy from stores that carry it. Just be aware it’s probably going to a landfill, or, if it floats off into the ocean, a river or stream, is just as much a problem as regular plastic.
Next week: some ideas on how to use less plastic.
*Here’s a list of industrial composting facilities in the United States. Does your curbside hauler take compostable plastic? How’s it going?