Post-Thanksgiving Landfill Rush: Who’s Watching the Disposable Tableware?

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Thanksgiving turkey
courtesy: The Stock Exchange (uploaded by davidlat)

Thanksgiving is behind us and the clean-up is upon us.  As most of us throw our silverware into the dishwasher, one must wonder: What is happening at hospitals, prisons, take-out restaurants, and other food service institutions around the country? Millions of extra plastic cups, plates, and tableware are headed to the landfill.

While this travesty of environmental conscience happens every year at this time, the good news is, perhaps it’s becoming a little less travesty-ific.  A friend of mine works as an institutional bid specialist for the U. S. Food Service. The massive distributor has tens of thousands of accounts across the United States, and one trend he is seeing is a noticeable uptick in requests for “green” plastic dish and tableware.

Over the last two to three years, he has been noticing that his large institutional customers are adding “green” into their specs — and they are willing to pay more for it. U. S. Food Service just landed a $40 million account, and the tableware? All green.

I was intrigued. Wanting to find out more about “green” tableware, I poked around online and found a company called Cereplast. Its Compostables resins, used to make disposable tableware and other products, are starch-based, made from corn, wheat, tapioca and potato starches. I don’t know whether Cereplast is supplying the resins used to make the tableware U. S. Food Service is distributing, but the company claims that tableware manufactured with these resins will decompose in a landfill in 2-3 years, compared to 100 years for tableware on average.

Research organizations are taking notice, as well. According to Freedonia, a market research organization, demand for U. S. decomposable plastics is set to jump 11% annual through 2014:

Demand for degradable plastics in the U.S. is projected to rise nearly 11% annually to 335 million pounds in 2014, valued at $390 million. Although representing less than one-half of one percent of all thermoplastic resin demand in 2009, degradable plastics will exhibit substantial growth opportunities. Degradable plastic advances will be fostered by their increased cost competitiveness with petroleum-based materials as well as their sustainability and more benign environmental profile. [1]

So you never know. This time next week, it might be more than just your turkey carcass that’s decomposing in the landfill.

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