Waste-Free challenge day 2: Zero waste events and compostable plastics

I went to the Teddy Bear’s picnic yesterday to support another local “towards zero-waste” event in our community.

Waiheke organisations have really got the hang of reducing waste at public events. Earlier this month the island hosted thousands of visitors at the famous Onetangi Beach races. It was organised by Waiheke Rotary and! as they have for many years, they commissioned the Waiheke Resources trust to run waste and recycling stations to educate visitors to reduce their waste. Sharing the love, the trust called on volunteers from other organisations to help with the stations as a way to raiser funds for their own projects. Our local Green Party branch participated and members reported it was an opportunity to connect with thousands of people and talk to them about waste, a good green issue. At the end of the day the Waiheke Resource trust weighed and measured the recyclables, compostables and residual waste and reported that 84% had been diverted from landfill.

Yesterday’s event had waste stations too. This time our island’s young people were educating the crowds about sorting their waste. They had separate bins for paper plates and seviettes (to be composted), general food waste, plastics, glass, clean paper, and residual waste.

Waste station at teddy bear's picnic

Waste station at teddy bear’s picnic

I bought a incredibly yummy green juice from my mate Lyndal. I was quite excited because Lyndal showed me the steel reusable straws she’s sourced for her customers. And being a person who cares about the planet Lyndal was selling her drinks in plastic cups made from corn starch that purported to be fully compostable. At least that’s what she was told. So in good faith she sold me a drink in a compostable plastic cup and I in good faith I bought it.

The trouble is – as I found out at the waste station – it’s not compostable on Waiheke. Or anywhere that we know of since it requires hot composting otherwise it won’t break down.

Non compostable cup

Non compostable cup

It’s becoming an increasing issue in New Zealand. While it’s great that we look for alternatives to oil-based plastic we need to make sure that there are systems in place that can deal with the alternatives. Currently the compostable plastics enter the waste stream and contaminate the plastic recycling systems. They have to be collected separately in order for anything to be done with them – and that’s supposing there are commercial composters who can deal with them. While vegetable based plastics are more environmentally friendly to produce – at the end of their life they’re still just rubbish.

When I reported back to Lyndal she said she’d go back to re-using glass jars. And my lesson is to resist greenwash. Re-usable a are better than any disposable packaging every time!

3 thoughts on “Waste-Free challenge day 2: Zero waste events and compostable plastics

  1. That’s bizarre about the cup. I always wondered what to do with those. I usually end up with one from buying the lolly cup at work and put it in the compost, but who knows what happens to it after that?

  2. Another problem, with those made from corn anyway, is that they contain Bisphyl-A, an oestrogen mimicker/ endocrine disrupter i.e. it leaches out Bisphenyl-A, especially into fatty foods which can build up in our bodies to initiate cancer, especially in soft tissue. So corn biodegradable plastic ends up in the same category as the plastic that lines food cans, plastic cheese wrappers, gladwrap, and now it has been shown that even our PET bottles can leach it, but usually only when storing liquids/ foods over a prolonged period (a year or more, generally) in warm conditions; so ensure that your emergency pack gets recycled yearly. Can’t remember the ref right now.

  3. There’s a similar problem with compostable bin liners. People assume they are the green alternative to using an ordinary plastic liner but when they end up in landfill they break down alright – very slowly and releasing methane in the process! Better to line your bin with an old newspaper and put it in your home compost system when you have emptied the bin.

Comments are closed.