August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine

August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine


Picnic greenware

Throw these plates, cups and forks in the compost bin

By Jeff Dick

Disposable dinnerware that is easier for the earth to digest is finding its way

onto store shelves, allowing cookouts and picnics to go greener. Tableware

made from corn, sugarcane, switchgrass and other organic material offers an

eco-friendly option compared to plates, cups and cutlery made from paper or


The best products are those considered compostable — meaning they transform

into fertilizer — rather than ones designated biodegradable, which break

down much less readily.

Perhaps the most widely available alternative is Bare by Solo. This ecofriendly

product line from the leading disposable dinnerware company includes

plates and cups in various sizes, made partially or entirely from plant-based substances.

All are advertised as cut-resistant, microwavable and strong.

While clear Bare cups are labeled as “made from 20 percent post-consumer

recycled plastic,” which reduces but doesn’t eliminate the need for non-renewable

resources, the oatmeal-colored variety are strictly plant-derived. Ditto for the similarly

tan-shaded plates. Both are compostable in commercial composting facilities

or by home-based do-it-yourselfers.

According to Solo’s website (, Bare products are available

at Hy-Vee, Target and Farm & Fleet. (Not all Bare products are

available at all stores.) They may also be ordered from online suppliers such as, a green e-tailer based in Boulder, Colo.

A check of the Hy-Vee on East 53rd Street in Davenport turned up two Bare

products: cold cups, made from 20 percent recycled material, and plates made

from plant-based renewable resources.

The cups were clear and resembled Solo’s plastic ones, which were priced

only 32 cents less for the same amount but with two ounces less capacity. The

plates were oatmeal-colored and labeled as “extra strong” and “free of bleach, dyes

and inks.”

Plant-derived faux forks, spoons and knives are harder to come by in stores

but can be purchased online from e-tailers such as

Consumer reviews of organic-based dinnerware can be found on the Web,

but Garry Griffith, director of dining services at Augustana College in Rock Island,

is much more qualified than most people to weigh in on greenware.

“We’ve been using it (at Augustana) for two years and it’s been great for us,”

he says. “A lot of people wouldn’t know the difference between conventional paper

or plastic and what we use.”

The college serves to-go meals in containers made out of “polylactides,” or

PLA for short, which is a fully compostable corn-based replacement for the plastics

traditionally used in disposable containers.

Augustana College partners with local farmer Jim Johansen of Wesley Acres


Produce in Milan, Ill., to compost food waste from its dining operations, which

includes “paper”-ware such as straws made from switchgrass, and “potato”-ware in

lieu of plastic cutlery. Waste is collected in compostable garbage bags.

Unfortunately, consumers without access to composting facilities — and not

inclined to do their own — end up sending their compostables to landfills, where

they take a lot longer to decompose. And that assumes they’re disposed of in hardto-find

biodegradable bags.

“Composting can take as little as six weeks, or it can take several months or

up to a year, depending on conditions,” says Johansen.

“It may take two to three years to break down in a landfill, but that’s better

than dumping wax-coated cups or Styrofoam in a landfill,” he says. “Using plastic

garbage bags really puts the brakes on the process. Compostables need exposure to

air and microorganisms.”

Using paper bags over plastic ones is preferable, but Johansen recommends

people ask their favorite retailer to stock corn-based garbage bags. “If enough

people request them, retailers will fill the demand. Our

dollars speak loudly,” he says. “And ask public

officials to open public composting

facilities in their communities.

That is the key.”

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