The Truth about Bio-Plastics

While some plastic foodware containers are currently accepted as recyclable in Cupertino, recycling does not address all problems with plastics. This includes problems with foodware containers and utensils made from polylactic acid (PLA) or other “compostable plastics,” which are not accepted in Cupertino’s organics recycling program because they take too long to degrade. An exception is made for Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)-certified compostable plastic bags, which are allowed to collect food scraps. Bio-plastic materials behave the same as traditional plastic in the environment in terms of photodegrading into smaller pieces and being eaten by wildlife, and do not break down any more readily in the water. Bio-plastic cups and containers are confusing to users because they appear identical to traditional plastic items and are often mistakenly sorted as recyclable. Bio-plastic foodware also tends to be the most expensive type of single-use foodware and creates a false sense of environmental benefit. Even if labeled as BPI-certified compostable, bio-plastic cups, containers, utensils, and accessories are still considered contaminants in the composting process. If bio-plastics are disposed in landfill they create methane as they degrade. If disposed as recyclable or compostable they must be sorted out as contaminants and are sent to landfill. There is no place for the currently-available bio-plastics in Cupertino’s waste streams.

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