I'm sitting here with an empty takeout container on my desk...wondering what the heck to do with it. I picked up a salad at my favorite neighborhood cafe and it came in this container labeled "This container is made from corn and is 100% compostable." It's a material called PLA (polylactic acid) and comes from a company called NatureWorks.
My first thought was GREAT!! - I'm so happy to see an alternative to the usual plastic takeout containers (most of which can not be recycled in our municipal recycling program)!!!
But my elation was short-lived. I thought I could just toss it into my home compost pile, but it turns out that these containers are really only compostable under commercial compost conditions (where they will break down in 45 to 60 days). Since I don't have access to a commercial compost facility....what should I do with this thing?
As I see it, here are my options:
- Recycle It- I was tempted to just toss the container into my recycling bin, assuming that 'they' would know what to do with it. But I looked into it and found out that PLA is currently NOT recyclable and in fact can contaminate the recycling process if it gets mixed in with PET plastic bottles (which can be recycled.) When PLA is found in recycling centers it is simply tossed into a landfill or burned...but not composted.
- Compost It - Just for kicks - I might just throw the container into my own home compost pile to see what happens. Problem is, I don't use a compost tumbler or anything - I just have a big compost heap. And I really don't want my backyard to look like the neighborhood dump.
- Reuse It - I will probably reuse the container a few times (for cold foods or maybe for something else around the house) but it is not a very durable container so I doubt it will last long.
- Toss It- Ultimately, this thing is going into the garbage can. Sad, huh? To make things worse, PLA exudes methane (a potent greenhouse gas) when it decomposes in the landfill.
What's the solution? Uhhhh...don't buy takeout? That's not a practical solution for most of us but we can do our best to use less of it. Beth from Fake Plastic Fish (who is hosting this month's carnival on plastics) is the only person I know who actually brings her own stainless steel container to the store to fill up with food. She's setting a great example. Ten years ago who would have thought we'd all be carrying our own bags to the grocery store? Bringing our own takeout containers could be the next big grocery revolution!
Please visit Beth's site
later this month NOW to read more lively discussions about plastic from the gals at the Green Mom's Carnival. You may think plastic is a boring topic, but I guarantee you'll learn something you didn't know and something that impacts your daily life...most likely with a dose of humor thrown in for good measure.