What are those clear plastic-like cups and deli containers made of?

They are made from Polylactide (PLA). PLA is derived from starchy plants like corn, potatoes, tapioca, sugarcane, and soy protein. In the U.S., PLA is typically made from corn kernels that are milled and processed to extract the simple sugar dextrose. The largest producer of PLA today is a company called NatureWorks (

According to NatureWorks, right now...

  • Less than 1/20th of 1% (0.05%) of the annual global corn crop is used to make disposables, so there's little to no impact on food prices or supply
  • The process does not require corn, but only a sugar source. This could include sugar beets, sugar cane, wheat and more.

PLA performs much like traditional plastics, but are made from annually renewable resources like corn plants. PLA offers the cost and performance necessary to compete with traditional petroleum-based materials, but with the crucial benefit of being commercially compostable.

Most plastic cups are made from plastic #5, which isn’t readily recyclable at many curbside-recycling programs. That means most disposable plastic cups end up clogging a landfill.

Why does it matter if I use a hot cup lined with PLA versus Plastic?

Unfortunately, that disposable paper cup the barista handed you isn’t made of paper only. Most disposable paper coffee cups are lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic. This coating prevents your cup from turning to mush while you enjoy your favorite latte, but it also means these cups can't be easily recycled. A hot cup lined with PLA is compostable and takes a lot less energy to product. It will break down without leaving a trace.

Americans throw away about 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


What is compost?

Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.

The packaging is compostable. What does that mean?

Compostable packaging will break down into organic material in a commercial compost facility where they compost municipal solid waste, yard waste or mixed municipal solid waste.

To ensure that products are compostable, they are tested and certified to meet the ASTM standards for composting by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). BPI uses scientifically based standards to determine if a product is compostable in a commercial facility in a specific timeframe - usually within 180 days. Look for the words "Certified Compostable" on the food service disposables you use.

If compostable products end up in a landfill, is there any benefit? 

Compostable products are made from plants, which mean they are produced from a resource that is renewable. They also take less energy to produce and are responsible for less CO2 in the atmosphere. This means that, even if you do not have access to commercial composting, you are still making a difference by choosing renewable resource disposables over conventional  plastic or Styrofoam disposables.

Do compostable products make methane if they go into landfills? 

In a capped landfill (the most common type of landfill in the U.S.), PLA products will remain stablghghe and not be a significant contributor to methane emissions. Compostable PLA plastic breaks down in aerobic composting scenarios best, and composting is not a significant source of methane. Composting is a specific aerobic (oxygen rich) process which occurs in compost piles only, not inside sealed anaerobic (oxygen deprived) landfills.

Methane in landfills results from organic materials that end up in anaerobic (air-locked or capped) landfills and are deprived of oxygen and micro-organisms. Over long periods of time, organic material slowly degrades anaerobically resulting in the creation of methane gas. Methane gas is more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2 over its lifetime. Landfills are the second largest source of man-made methane emissions in the US, and much of this is attributed to the long legacy of organic matter anaerobically decomposing in the landfill and making methane gas. This is why it is more important than ever to keep as much organic matter like food scraps, yard waste, and agricultural waste out of the landfill. Plastics are generally stable in the landfill, and things like foam will stick around for a very long time - or forever.


How are those brown pulp containers made?

Rather than throwing away or burning used sugarcane and wheat stalks, the stalk is “reclaimed” and pulped to make a paper-like substance that becomes the feed stock of these containers. This substance can be formed into an amazing variety of products like containers, plates, and bowls. It looks, acts, and is made quite similarly to paper, but from a reclaimed resource that would otherwise be burned or left on the fields.

Bagasse and wheat are heat tolerant like paper and can even be put in the microwave or the freezer. Both Bagasse and wheat are fully compostable and break down best in commercial compost facilities. In commercial composting conditions, Bagasse and wheat will compost in approximately 45-60 days. Composting may take longer in a home composting bin.


What does PCF mean?

Post-consumer fiber (PCF) is paper material that has been thrown away and recycled after someone has used it. After this paper was not longer useful, someone happily recycled it, making it possible for most of those paper fibers to return to you as a hot cup or container.

Products made with post-consumer recycled materials ultimately rely on fewer virgin materials. In the case of recycled fiber, this means that less virgin paper goes into the product, more recycled paper cycles through the market, and fewer forests must be cut down to feed the demand for virgin paper. Post-consumer recycled items have the added benefit of helping stimulate demand for post-consumer recycled paper, thus helping support the recycling markets here in the United States.

Why is it important to use unbleached, recycled products?

Using recycled paper products or paper manufactured without the use of chlorine bleaching agents offers important environmental benefits. Every ton of recycled paper produces sixty pounds less chemical pollutants, saves seventeen trees and saves enough energy to heat and air condition an average home for six months. Advantages of producing natural unbleached paper versus bleached paper:

  • 21% Less wood pulp used
  • 10% Less greenhouse gases produced
  • 46% Less waste water released
  • 16% Less solid waste produced

source - BagCraft Papercon


How does it work in my life?

Zero Waste is a philosophy of taking action in your own life. Basically, it means thinking about waste before you create it. Buy smart, refuse extraneous packaging and use food service disposables that have less of an environmental impact on the earth. Make manufacturers take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products and packaging. Smart choices about how you create waste combined with recycling and composting are the first steps toward a zero waste life.

Why strive for having Zero Waste Events?

Let's face it. Events, parties, and gatherings generate waste, usually in the form of paper and plastic. Using compostable disposable plates, cups, and cutlery made from renewable resources gives you the opportunity to lessen your impact on the earth and compost the waste produced in an event.