Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ban Plastics, What Can We Use Instead?

Many cities across the US have banned the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging, particularly in restaurants.  The reasons to do this range from the plastic derivative's inability to be recycled, the chemical used to make them (polystyrene) leeches into your food and the water table when in landfills, and they NEVER go away!

Clever entrepreneurs have come up with substitutes to the ubiquitous Styrofoam and plastic bags and many are biodegradable and compostable.  Composting is a process you can do at home and then once the packaging has broken down, you can use it to fertilize your garden.  Here are some of the plastic alternatives available now.

Bagasse made from sugar cane and wheat straw fiber
  • For hot food containers
  • Biodegradable and compostable
  • Paper-like packaging, comes in clamshells, coffee cups, and plates
  • Soak proof, microwave safe (unlike plastic Styrofoam) 
  • Withstands temperatures up to 200 degrees F.

  • For grocery and retail store bags and films
  • Made from Mater-Bi, a corn product 
  • Biodegradable, commercially compostable

  • For cold drinks and food
  • Made from PLA (polylactic acid) derived from corn grown in the US
  • Biodegradable, compostable
  • Similar to clear plastic cups, salad boxes and clamshells


  • PLA plus Talc, made from Chinese corn and Talc
  • Used for utensils 
  • Withstands temperatures up to 200 degrees F
  • Biodegradable, compostable (commercial facilities only)

Dell Bamboo Packaging
  • Made from bamboo, which is strong, fast growing, local and helps promote healthy soil and protects against erosion
  • Used to cushion Dell Computer products
  • Biodegradable, compostable

  • For shipping needs, foam product similar to Styrofoam
  • Takes less energy to produce
  • Made from mushroom seed husks (cotton and buckwheat hulls) and mushroom roots (parts people don't eat)
  • Biodegradable, compostable

Products on the horizon, not yet available.
  • For insulation in homes
  • Use local agricultural castoffs like seed hulls and burrs to lower transportation costs 
  • biodegradable, fire resistant, VOC and chemical free, nonallergenic, mold resistant
 Bacterial Polyesters
  • Biodegradable
  • Commercially compostable
  • Could be used to make films, wraps, bottles, combs, molded products
The City of San Antonio already has a yard waste composting program, adding on a compost operation for biodegradable packaging seems like a logical next step in San Antonio's quest to "Creating a Pathway to Zero Waste."
Now if they could just come up with a similar substitute for Saran Wrap! 


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