Why Compostables are Not the Answer

People often question us with “why are compostable coffee cups the answer to this environmental problem?” My dad was one of those people. He is a businessman whose job is to ask companies, like ours, hard questions. The other day, he came home from work with a compostable cup. He set it on the table and says “this is your competition.” I looked at him and said “what are you planning to do with this cup now?” He responded with “throw it away.” After he said that I knew he did not actually know what it meant for a product to be compostable. Perhaps the terminology, the marketing of compostable products has been misleading.

I had to explain to him that these “compostable” products only truly biodegrade in a commercial composter where they are able to control for light, temperature, and moisture. If these “compostable” products end up in a landfill, our city sidewalks, or in the ocean, they are just as bad as plastic. The polyfluoroalkyl (PFA) used to make compostable containers durable make the product too durable to degrade in the environment. To read more, see the FAQs from EcoProducts:

To add insult to injury, compostable materials are usually more expensive. If the product is not BPI Certified Compostable (Biodegradable Product Institute), many facilities will not accept it, resulting in contamination and/or the materials being diverted to the landfill. Studies have begun to show that some compostable products offered at our favorite fast casual restaurants could contain cancer causing chemicals that may also be detrimental to the environment.

My dad is a very smart man and now he understands the barriers of “compostable” products. And he also now understand why food scraps should be composted instead of tossed in the trash. After our conversation he has invested in a compost bin at home that is picked up weekly by Bootstrap Compost. But more importantly, my dad is beginning to understand that the future is not with “compostable” products. Instead, the future is with circular economies.

We get a lot of questions about compostables. It’s a learning curve, we get it. Learn more about Boston’s composting requirements here. The long and short of it is that compostable products, as they stand today, are not the solution.

Instead, a circular economy, the idea of being able to reuse a product in use for as long as possible before regenerating the product at the end of its lifecycle, is the way of the future. We can look to other circular and shared economies for lessons learned - bike sharing and Rent the Runway are but a few examples.

Coffee Cup Collective is here to help coffee lovers, cafes, and businesses be more sustainable and save money!

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