Coalesce, an organization that works with colleges and universities to develop collaborative solutions to improve sustainability, recently wrote on the challenges posed by compostable plastics for food waste diversion programs. Many institutions, especially universities, have switched to BPI certified disposable compostable products, such as cold cups and cutlery, rather than traditional plastic options.

Most compost facilities in Massachusetts have commonly accepted compostableware but have increasingly been phasing them out of their accepted materials. A number of factors inform the decline in acceptance for compostable plastics among Massachusetts facilities: concern for how quickly they break down in aerobic composting; their designation as a “synthetic” material, meaning that organic farms cannot apply compost produced at facilities that accept plastics; and the increasing prevalence of anaerobic digestion which is incapable of breaking down compostables.

The primary solution to this challenge offered by Coalesce is to switch to reusable products whenever possible. Some colleges, including Williams College and Harvard University, have established reusable to-go container programs to reduce waste from disposable containers. These programs typically entail students exchanging a token for a reusable container then bringing the container back for another token so that it can be cleaned and reused.

While compostable plastics have proven to be a challenge, some compost facilities in Massachusetts do still take them. If your business or institution has questions regarding whether you should be disposing of compostable products with your food waste, ask your hauler where your compost ends up and whether compostable plastics are accepted. RecyclingWorks recently published a document of best practices for working with your hauler.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts assists businesses and institutions with recycling and food waste reduction through food donation and composting. To speak to a recycling expert, call our hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at info@recyclingworksma.com.