ConsumerWatch: Green Utensils Ending Up In Landfills

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Green compostable collection bin, San Francisco (AP)

Green compostable collection bin, San Francisco (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Utensils that are marketed as compostable or good for the environment are not living up to expectations, according to an environmental group.

“I’m not really aware of any composter that wants compostable utensils,” said Scott Smithline of Californians Against Waste. Smithline contends a significant number of the utensils are screened out at the very beginning of composting process and end up in landfills.

“They have a tendency to want to screen all the forks out because they don’t know which ones are going to compost in the first place,” Smithline told CBS 5 Consumerwatch. Smithline also said many of the compostable utensils that do make it into the compost pile get screened out at the end, because they don’t break down completely during regular composting cycles.

Recology, the Bay Area’s biggest composter, would not allow ConsumerWatch to observe the screening of food scrap waste. But the company admits having mixed results with compostable utensils.

“We’re experiencing everything you can imagine,” according to Recology’s Robert Reed. “Some completely compost, some only partly, some not at all.”

Environmental groups contend utensils pose several problems for composters. “Forks need a certain thickness for function, but that same thickness acts as a barrier to microbial degradation,” Smithline said.

Another reason, according to Smithline, is a discrepancy between composting certification standards and reality. It is also often difficult for composters to distinguish compostable utensils from non-compostable because they’re not well identified by manufacturers.

Utensils are certified compostable if third-party tests show they break down in 180 days in a commercial composting operation. But an average composting cycle is typically 60 to 90 days.

Smithline said utensil manufacturers and composting operations need to work out a new, realistic certification standard.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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