Numerous organizations all over the world are now offering for sale ecologically sound products, in our business the most commonplace are the PLA (poly-lactic acid) coated Paper Coffee Cups the likes of Tim Hortons and the other major coffee shops are employing in their desire to be seen to be as environmentally acceptable and sympathetic as possible.
Many are now offering reusable ceramic mugs to drink in store, or that you can purchase and then return to receive a discount.
Thousands of websites have materialized offering biodegradable disposable tableware and “to-go” products.
What people do not realize is that some of these products are pointless unless the companies and consumers using these products change their habits too.
Having just finished reading a press release about a certain restaurant switching its type of paper coffee cups from the standard oil based lined product to the new in vogue PLA coated “biodegradable” types and advising us how they are single handedly rescuing the environment I feel it is necessary to make a few points.
Firstly these PLA coated biodegradable cups will not reusable coffee cup biodegrade in a landfill so it of no use paying the extra cash for these cups if they are simply thrown in the bin bags with the rest of the trash and disposed with other unsorted Catering Supplies.
Another point to note is that recycling and composting is mainly a service carried out by local councils; and many authorities treat waste differently from one area to another. Some will collect your waste paper for resale (sold typically in the Far East) some will burn it for power, whereas some actually just send it straight to the landfill irrespective of how you have sorted it at home or the office.
One of the main problems with the short sighted efforts of these (usually large) companies trying their upmost to be seen as the leader in fighting climate change is that they do not consider where their waste ends up, how these new products are manufactured or how they should be handled in order to make the most of their biodegradable attributes.
Biodegradable paper cups can create more waste if not properly sorted at waste reclamation sites, these new PLA coated paper coffee cups do not differ visually from standard oil lined paper coffee cups and as a result this can actually create more problems.
most of all Paper Cups used/sold at present have an oil based lining and are regularly collected for recycling, if however one of these PLA lined paper cups came into contact with these cups, the natural lining would react with the oil based lining and destroy the whole batch. There have already been stories of PLA containers finding their way into polypropylene recycling containers and contaminating their Catering Supplies waste.
There have also been reports of deforestation in parts of China to create more space to grow the crops used for production of PLA and in the west we have been giving farm subsidies to farmers in Africa to grow many of the crops we are now using for PLA and bio-fuels – putting these people back into poverty!
Removing farmland once used to grow food in order to grow crops for bio-fuels and alternatives to plastics also increases food prices, something most people will have noticed in the last year.