By Jenn McNaught
Jenn McNaught is the founder of Solid Waste Strategies, a West Coast municipal media and educational firm working in support of the Compost Manufacturing Alliance to minimize contaminants in all recycling streams.
I am always taken aback by how many plastic portion cups and non-compostable condiment packets are used throughout stadiums and other large venues where public compost collection programs exist. These small items will migrate into compost programs in epic proportions, leaving compost facilities to clean up the mess by sifting thousands out of the piles every week. This is costly for the industry, and an upstream issue that deserves all stakeholders’ attention. So- attention game goers, waste haulers, compost facilities, municipal recycling coordinators, food service vendors, facility managers, suppliers, manufacturers, product suppliers, and brands owners. Let’s try tackling contamination in compost streams while our favorite teams tackle each other on the field.
Disposable packaging will continue to grow in this take out, dine in, toss it world. Oh, how we love the thought that all the goodies we gulped at the game and the containers they came in will be wonderfully transformed into earth friendly compost for our gardens. Yet, that only happens when feed stocks are not overrun with non-compostable hot and cold cups, lids, plastic ketchup packets and portion cups, and plastic laminated popcorn bags and tubs. To truly grow as masters of a sustainable universe, it takes a significant amount of collaborative work to move to the next level, which means ameliorating all possibilities for compost contamination. Some strategies for this include:
- Using condiment pump stations and small paper portion cups instead of plastic portion cups or ketchup and mustard packets (or, how about just pumping it onto your garlic fries and skipping the container altogether)?
- Auditing your procurement list to see if the items you are procuring for your large venue are all compostable (or should be).
- Making sure your procurement team does not take in plastic replacements if the compostable items are out of stock.
- Communicating with brand suppliers about the significant issue of cross-contamination with non-compostables.
- Conducting a waste audit post-event to see how much non-compostable material is in your compost streams.
- Asking your food service packaging and hauling vendors to ensure all items at public events are compliant with your local compost facilities’ requirements.
When it comes to portion cups, most sold on the market are not compostable, while resin identification codes do not apply to rigid containers less than 8 ounces in size, and they are not required to have a number or a descriptor such as PLA, PET, PS, PP, etc. To distinguish between those that are, you can start by checking this CMA list, which lists items that have been field tested in a high tech composting system and have also met ASTM recognized standards in a laboratory. If you don’t happen to have the list handy, small paper cups* are fine, while clear portion cups and lids that say Ingeo (a recognized PLA material predominant for clear compostables in the U.S.) indicates they were designed to be industrially composted. Also, a few compostable versions have a green or brown stripe (thank you, manufacturers) that differentiates them from non-compostable ones.
Big venues can create big challenges, but even bigger opportunities to get things right. If you would like more information on effectively connecting the supply chain to the solid waste system, or would like to work with Solid Waste Strategies on designing an effective stakeholder event or support to address contamination issues, drop me a line at Jenn@SolidWasteStrategies.com.
*Assuming no treatments or elements are present that may be problematic.