With the ongoing waste and plastic pollution crisis that has become severe, composting is now more common that will help in solving a lot of these problems. There are compostable bin liners, toothbrushes, baking paper, food packaging, deodorant tubes, dental floss, paper cups or even underwear that now have a compostable version. However, compostable could mean a lot of things, and it is also used as a greenwashing tactic to make you think the product you are buying is good for the environment. That is why there is a huge question mark about recyclables and compostable and what should people know about them, especially how to dispose them. It is important to let people know the facts about compostable paper cups so they can dispose them properly. This article will also tell you how compostable differs from biodegradable even if they are similar.
Meaning of Compostable
Compostable materials have similarities to what biodegradable products use because they are both made to safely return to earth. However, the materials that are compostable are a step further because they provide the earth nutrients after their materials have been broken down. In addition, the materials go to compost piles located in designated sites that have specific conditions that depend on sunlight, wind, drainage, etc. Even if biodegradable materials are made to break down when they get to the landfills, compostable materials need special composting conditions.
When it comes to coffee cups, whether it has a traditional plastic or PLA lining, most of it is paper. This organic paper will break down in landfills and they will emit methane, which contributes to climate change. Therefore, if compostable paper cups can make be put in the right bin and inside a composting facility, then it is better than a lined plastic one. The only thing is that it uses a lot of resources and energy, which is why a reusable option was invented.
Probably, the biggest issue with coffee cups is the misunderstanding between their recyclability and how they are being recycled. Technically, cups are recyclable, and it is something that coffee cups are happily promoting on their packaging. However, because they are hard to produce, most of the coffee cups are not recycled.
Even if they mostly use paper, these coffee cups have plastic polyethylene lining, making the cup waterproof so it can hold the liquid. It makes the cups unrecyclable, especially that they have been contaminated with a drink.
Therefore, these cups should be taken to special facilities, and there aren’t a lot of them. In fact, only about 1% of paper coffee cups are being recycled.
Hurdles of Recycling
The cost is one thing because there is a lot of investment that involves in providing the bins for them and then sending them to specialized plants so they can be properly recycled. It is arguable that the prominent coffee companies must pay because of their huge profit. The smaller cafes might find it hard to pay this.
Then there is the hassle because most disposable cups will not stay in the premises, so customers should be convinced that they need to bring back their empty cups so they can be recycled properly. What needs to be done is that recycling has to become easy and accessible to everyone.
Contamination is also an issue, which a lot of people are not aware of. Those who recycle paper do not seem to handle drink or food residues left on waste paper. In case there is a lot of this in a batch, they can all end up in the landfill. Hopefully, technological and recycling developments may find solutions to this.
How Can You Help?
You must dispose of them properly, which means that if you are using compostable products, make sure you are throwing them in the right bin. Keep in mind that if there is no available commercial compost, then they should go to a landfill.
If you dine in, avoid having to use anything disposable, and take this time to think about how you are helping the environment.
In case you are unable to compost from where you live, look for someone in the local area who you can give your scraps to. Another thing you can do to help is to ask the local cafes if they can start using compostable coffee cups, and offer a discount to customers who have their own reusable cups. If the café is already using compostable cups, ask how they compost their used cups.
Do not put them in your food and garden bin because even if natural materials were used to produce them and they are compostable, compostable cups may take years to breakdown. That happens if you put them in the wrong bin. What you can do is to put them in your garden and food bins are compostable bags that have the logo EN13432 on it. Potato starch is used to make these bags so that they can break down the same time as your other wastes from food and the garden.
About Compost Plants
In order to break them down, the plant needs to have the right temperature for an easy breakdown. That is the reason why it is a lot simpler to do it in a compost plant instead of at home. That only becomes possible if you have a state-of-the-art technology in your home, that can monitor levels of compound before dividing the waste into stages, the compost bin in your home will not work.
What to do With the Lids?
The lids on takeaway cups are usually hard polystyrene material, and this is not widely recycled, so they have to be removed and be put separately in a bin.
Whenever you buy a cup of coffee or use a paper cup, you should remember these important things so you will not contribute to the global waste problem. This does not mean you should not use them at all, you just have to know how and where to throw them.