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Compostable Cutlery

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | March 4, 2010

cutlery.jpgI’ve wanted to love “compostable cutlery,” I really have.  Every time I see slightly differently-textured disposable cutlery at a to-go shop, it’s exciting for the first few moments… until my doubts kick in.  Does this stuff really compost?  If so, will it compost in a home compost pile, or does it require an industrial composting machine (which most communities don’t have)?

I’ve wanted to believe, I really have!  Because those potato forks and starch spoons seem a heck of a lot better than the virgin petroleum-plastic options… sadly, turns out, not so much.

Beth Terry did some research into this situation, and contacted a recycling company in San Franscisco.  They sent her photos of a potat0-starch based spoon and fork, before and after they’d been composted at extremely high heat in an industrial composter.  In both photos, the cutlery looks identical– they didn’t break down at all in the composting process.

She then ran a test herself, burying a comb made from wheat-based plastic in her yard for three months.  Even after assurance from the company that their product would compost, it didn’t, at all.

So, the take-away here for me is that, in the end, disposables of any kind are still that– disposables.  They’re made for single use, and require a lot of resources to create. While some may be better than others– bagasse plates, for example, are made from byproducts of the sugar industry and will in fact biodegrade– disposables by their very nature are wasteful and in most cases unneccessary.

My current solution is so fun!  I was gifted a To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set  which I carry in my bag, and delight every time I pull out a fork or set of chopsticks.  Plus, since they’re bamboo, the set weighs nearly nothing!  Team Tiny Choices is also extremely fond of bamboo sporks, of which one is also floating around in my bag at all times.

What’re your thoughts on disposable cutlery?  Do you avoid it, or is it inevitable?

[Image by Mathias Baert via Creative Commons]

Topics: Food, Waste | 10 Comments »

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2010-03-04 06:09:49

I actually carry one of those “compostable” forks in my To-Go Ware kit because I lost the bamboo fork. Sad. I think I must have thrown it away by accident. Crazy because I rarely throw anything away. Then again, when I was a teenager, I threw away a bazillion retainers until my dad said he wouldn’t pay for anymore. So as an adult, I had to shell out my own money to get my teeth fixed again. Way more expensive than a bamboo fork.

Okay, to be fair about compostables, I did only test out two brands, so I’m sure there must be some that do compost well. But like you said, disposable is disposable. They still require resources to produce for a one-time use. Can our planet really afford this kind of waste even if it does biodegrade in some circumstances?

Comment by Karina
2010-03-04 07:15:17

I agree about the biodegradable stuff! we have a full kitchen at work – dishwasher, silverware drawer, etc. but recently I got a question from a friend: what is better, to use a disposable plastic coffee stirrer, or a compostable spoon to stir his tea? I was pretty clear that he needed to use a REAL spoon, because we had a whole bunch of them already.

plus there have been concerns about the energy (and fertilizer) required to make new compostable stuff – whereas with the reusable stuff, you only have to make it 1x.

Comment by stacey
2010-03-04 09:14:21

I’ve been having an angst over disposables for the past two weeks. Basically, I’m throwing a birthday party for my sweetheart at a friend’s house and said we’d get disposables because I didn’t want to cause too much of a mess. I kinda hoped the host friend would step in and say, “nooooo – use my forks,” but she didn’t.

I found that the restaurant I’m ordering from, which has pretty darn sustainable business practices, will provide me with forks & knives & napkins, though I’ll pass on the knives because those are just extra. I’m fairly certain that these will be the compostable forks and despite the problems with this, I’m willing to take them, because they’re free.

Since we’re having about twenty people, I was considering buying reusable sporks for everyone as dinner tools/ party favors, But, I’m a big fan of the no-dollar-cost to me (at this time) of the forks. Oh yes, I do carry a reusable Light My Fire brand spork in my bag.

re: The sustainability of the restaurant: we’re getting the hot food packaged into our own (well, our friend’s) pots and the tacos will be packaged in “”boxes that our produce comes in.”

Comment by Jenn S.
2010-03-04 10:48:06

Great info on the compostables…I’ve been wondering about those for some time! I carry a set of silverware in my bag (likely nestled next to the emergency stash of food), and have dishes and silverware at work, so I can eat my lunch on real plates, instead of out of my storage containers.

One of our Tiny Choices is that we don’t do take-out. At work, or at home. No matter how sustainable, it still produces extra waste. Because I can’t have gluten, this is as much a survival skill as anything – I feel much more confident when I can talk to restaurant staff about what I need. This choice is also about cost…we save SO much money by avoiding take-out completely. Lucky for me, I like cooking…so it doesn’t feel like much of a hassle.

Comment by Marisa
2010-03-04 16:17:24

Ingrid, the nice lady with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, said that they take compostable disposables, maybe because their composter is commercial/hardcore? Having a shower with 80 people at my place and don’t possess enough cutlery/plates/cups for everyone. Let’s hope those composters really work…

I have a to-go ware set that I carry in my purse too. Feels great to use em but they don’t stay in the napkin and get all dirty. Wish to-go ware put 2 string ties instead of one to keep them together….

Comment by Christina Dudley
2010-03-04 16:36:51

One of my other misgivings about “compostable” disposable cutlery is that, most often, they’re made out of a food product like corn or potatoes. That just raises prices on those foods. Mexico has experienced inflation on tortilla prices, and it’s cringe-worthy to think we’re using food to run cars (Ethanol) and to make our disposable lifestyle more “guilt-free.”

Thanks for the information!

2010-03-04 23:15:16

[...] Compostable Cutlery | Small Choices [...]

Comment by Rob Waddell
2010-03-28 21:02:40

Good Afternoon… I wanted to introduce to you a new type of compostable utensil that not only looks green but is green.

Most Bio-Plastic utensils that are heat tolerant over 140 F are not considered compostable due to the fact that a compost pile will never be able to reach the temperatures required to breakdown a bio-plastic fork that is heat tolerant to 200 F. In contacting multiple compost suppliers the solution has been to remove all bio-plastic from received compost and send it to the landfill to biodegrade. This is being done for two reasons. First, it is very difficult to indentify a bio-plastic from a plastic fork. Therefore it is policy to remove all utensils to insure the quality of compost. Second, it doesn’t compost. All bio-plastic that is heat tolerant above 140 F will not compost. It’s strictly a factor of temperature over any statement made by the manufacturer.

Birchware has been approved by Cedar Gove Composting in Seattle, WA. The largest provider of compost in the Pacific Northwest. Cedar Grove has tested Birchware and approved it to be disposed of with your food scraps in a compost bin. Birchware is the only high temperature (over 200F) that is accepted as a 100% compostable utensil in the Pacific Northwest. Understanding as more communities start composting programs the effort to use only compostable product will increase.

I invite you to take a look at http://www.birchware.com for more information. Please feel free to contact me with any additional question.


Comment by Maggie Chen
2010-07-04 21:29:26

Hi Dear Sir/Madam,
We are the professional manufacturer of biodegradable cutlery: PSM and PLA cutlery. We have sold our products to USA, Canada, Australia, Italy and UK, especially USA. We have long-term and happy cooperation with our clients. In order to expand our business . We hope to begin our business with your company.
If you are interested , please feel free to contact me.

Suzhou Suyuan Bio-products Co.,Ltd.
Maggie Chen
T : 86 512 6863 8462

Comment by David Sany
2011-04-27 03:40:24

To have a minimum inpact to environment,the best choice is to use reusable items or compostable items. Only when you do need a disposable cutlery,choose compostable cutlery not PP/PS cutlery.

Actually,there is a compostable cutlery in the market,but pls compost it in commerical or industrial facilities,don’t compost it in the home compost pile.

I’m in R&D and business of compostable cutlery and other compostable disposables for 5 years.

Best regards,
SIMPAK Disposables
T: 86-575-8334 1675


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