With the rising interest in compostable plastic options from consumers wanting to reduce their contributions to landfill, compostable cutlery is becoming more and more popular, however, how compostable is this alternative plastic option?
Compostable cutlery made from natural materials will compost when disposed of in the right environment such as a home composter, worm farm or industrial composter, reducing contributions to landfill and returning to natural matter.
What Is Compostable Cutlery Made Of?
Compostable cutlery is made from plant-derived materials, meaning all natural materials! The key aspect is that they need to be strong enough to eat with – think knife, fork and spoon strong! This can include materials such as:
- Starches from renewable materials
- Fruit peels
These utensils are made similarly to traditional cutlery, with the same molds. Essentially, they use the same molds but the resin they are made from is created from natural plant sources that are renewable! This mixture is then poured into the molds and the utensils are produced.
The great thing about compostable cutlery is that it is made from 100 per cent natural materials! This means that the manufacturing process is better from the environment by creating rural jobs, releasing less greenhouse emissions and gases, using less electricity and water.
The cutlery is also then broken back down into natural matter when disposed of in a worm farm, home composter or industrial composting facility.
What Are The Benefits Of Compostable Cutlery?
When you use cutlery, it is used for a short period of time and then traditionally tossed straight into the garbage when disposable. This means that for a few minutes or so of eating, you are contributing large amounts of waste to landfill each year.
The benefits of compostable cutlery are mostly for the environment but also for the health our our wildlife, soils, waterways and also human health in the long term. Some benefits of switching to compostable cutlery (when not at home) include:
- Reduces contributions to landfill and waste
- Reduces chance of contaminating waterways or soil
- Safer for wildlife as it’s not disposed of in the environment or landfill
- Less greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing
- Less electricity and water used in manufacturing
- Creates rural jobs
- Safer for humans with no toxic components
- Doesn’t leach or leave behind toxic chemicals when breaking down
- Breaks down much more rapidly than traditional plastic
- Provides great quality fertilizer when disposed of in the correct composting environment.
Compostable cutlery will break down in as little as 90 days, whereas, traditional plastics can take decades or centuries to break down in landfill. Traditional and even biodegradable plastics also leave behind toxic residue that can prove harmful for wildlife, soil and waterways.
Read more about the different plastic alternatives in this article.
How Long Does It Take For Compostable Cutlery To Decompose?
Compostable cutlery is a great choice to reduce contributions to landfill when disposed of in the correct environment. When you dispose of your compostable cutlery in a home composter, worm farm or industrial composter, the items will break down much more rapidly than traditional or even biodegradable plastic.
The rate at which they break down will depend largely on the materials they are made from. It’s important to understand that compostable materials decompose the best when they are placed in appropriate conditions. An industrial composter is the fastest option as they are very well controlled and can handle vast amounts of waste.
For compostable cutlery to break down, it needs water, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and microorganisms. This means that the items will NOT break down in a landfill environment and will contribute to pollution. Depending on what they are made from, compostable cutlery may decompose in 180 days or less.
Some resources will decompose quicker than others, for example, sugarcane pulp compostable cutlery will break down in around 120 days.
Learn more about the composting process here.
How Do You Dispose Of Compostable Cutlery?
It’s important to understand that if you switch to compostable cutlery or any compostable items, you need to be willing to dispose of the items correctly. This includes a worm farm, home composter or industrial composting facility. If you dispose of the items with your general waste, they won’t break down any quicker and will contribute to landfill.
It’s also important to understand that ONLY compostable items can be placed in a worm farm of composter. Technically, all plastics are biodegradable and will eventually decompose. However, traditional plastics will take thousands of years to break down. Non-compostable items will contaminate the compost and will not break down.
How Is Compostable Cutlery Broken Down?
The act of composting is essentially a process that sees materials such as compostable plastic or organic material such as food scraps, placed into a composter. This matter is then broken down through the presence of insects, worms, bacteria and fungi.
A commercial composter is extremely measured and controlled, with all aspects such as water, air, temperature and introduced micro-organisms being watched. Compost can then be utilised as fertiliser in gardens or fields as it has been broken down to organic matter and is full of useful nutrients.
Compostable plastics are made to break down quicker with the correct environment and other microorganisms. For plastic to break down, it requires microbes and fungi in the environment.
The microbe-rich environment in an industrial or home composter is what assists the plastic to break down more rapidly. Industrial composters are the ideal places with their controlled environment for compostable plastic to rapidly breakdown.
The aim of compostable plastic is to degrade into carbon dioxide, water and biomass as they’re made from organic materials. While composting can be achieved at home or in an industrial facility, the fundamental factors are the same. The difference is the control and measurements of an industrial or commercial facility over the less regimented home composter.
Read more about the different composting options in this blog.
Where Can You Purchase Compostable Cutlery?
Compostable products are becoming rapidly available across the globe, with many online and physical stores selling different options. Compostable cutlery is becoming extremely popular and is available everywhere from online stores to grocery stores.
Wooden cutlery is currently the most popular and readily available, however, specialist stockists are now also selling the more obscure options. Many of these are also housed in compostable plastic packaging so both the cutlery and packaging can be composted.
The best option to find compostable cutlery near you is to search the internet for your options and ensure they are labeled compostable and not biodegradable. They will also be certified compostable by a relevant third-party authority.
To be certified, they will go through certain tests and abide by the relevant standards in your region. They will then be labeled either on the product or packaging. This is how you can ensure your items are 100 per cent compostable.
Learn more about the composting certifications here.
Are There Any Negatives To Compostable Cutlery?
Although compostable cutlery provides an excellent option to reduce your environmental footprint, there are still some small negatives to keep in mind in order to make an informed choice. The negatives with compostable plastics are largely due to the misunderstanding of many consumers on what to do with them and how to dispose of the products
Unfortunately, this lack of understanding or preparedness can result in compostable plastic being thrown into landfill. This then is no better than traditional plastic as it won’t break down rapidly and will contribute to landfill numbers.
Another issue is that many people also don’t understand the difference between biodegradable and compostable. This is another reason compostable products end up in landfill rather than a composter.
If not composted properly, compostable plastic also becomes an environmental issue the same as plastic, filling natural environments such as the ocean the same way as traditional plastic. This leads to people thinking they are making a safer and smarter choice but being unsure about where to dispose of the material.
So you’ve decided to reduce your environmental footprint and your contributions to landfill by choosing compostable cutlery? You’ve taken the first step by reading this article and should be commended. Compostable alternatives such as cutlery are great options for consumers looking to make a difference.
The materials that make up compostable cutlery are completely renewable and will ensure that the items return to natural matter when disposed of correctly in a worm farm, home composter or industrial composting facility.
This is excellent news for the environment! Many of the modern-day compostable cutlery products are made from materials such as bamboo, wood, starches, corn, sugarcane and other renewable sources. This means that the manufacturing process is better from the environment by creating rural jobs, releasing less greenhouse emissions and gases, using less electricity and water.
You also get some excellent quality fertilizer once the items have been composted! If you send to an industrial composting facility, you are contributing to large quantities of good-quality fertilizer often used for large landscaping projects.