Can you compost your paper or bio-plastic product? Here's how to know for sure.
Ever get a take-out cup or container that looks “eco-friendly” and wonder whether you can put it in your curbside compost bin? It says “made from plants” - does that mean it can be composted? What if it says “biodegradable”?
We get these questions all the time, and unfortunately, the answer is a little hard to, ahem, break down (forgive us…). But don’t fret -- just check out our new guide... IS IT COMPOSTABLE?
Lots of food-related paper products like paper soda cups, take-out containers and milk cartons are lined with petroleum-based plastics to prevent liquids from leaking. When those products are placed in a compost bin and shipped off to an industrial composting facility, the plastic lining breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces to the point where it's no longer visible to the naked eye.
Unfortunately, that does not mean the plastic has disappeared. In order to ascertain what actually happens when plastic-coated paper products go through the industrial-scale composting process, Woods End Laboratories, Inc. (Mt. Vernon, ME) and Eco-Cycle partnered to test a range of these materials in a controlled biodegradation process.
From the executive summary of our report, Microplastics in Compost:
The study showed conclusively that micro-plastic fragments were shed from all plastic- coated samples, whether single or double-coated. This means any plastic-coated paper product, even those that are partially screened out during the composting process, is contaminating the finished compost with plastic particles.
While research has not been done to show the impact of these micro-plastics on soil ecosystems, there is growing evidence that these micro-plastics, when washed downstream into marine ecosystems, are concentrating POPs (persistent organic pollutants) found in seawater and are being ingested by marine organisms. We do know that our soils are being contaminated by petroleum-based plastics in communities that accept these plastic-coated products in their curbside compost programs. The growing evidence on the threats to wildlife and humans from marine-based plastic particle pollution is enough to cause serious concern.
Bottom line: Use our guide to make sure whatever you are composting is completely free of plastic, or risk contaminating our soils with plastic particles.
Eco-Cycle is calling on industrial composters and municipalities nationwide to pledge to keep plastic products out of their compost programs and facilities. To take action and learn more about the report, visit http://ecocycle.org/specialreports/microplasticsincompost.