Compostable Plastics: The Next Generation Of Plastics
Compostable Materials

Compostable Plastics: The Next Generation Of Plastics

Compostable plastics are the next generation of plastics- they come from renewable materials and break down through composting.

Instead of using plastic made from petrochemicals and fossil fuels, compostable plastics are derived from renewable materials like corn, potato, and tapioca starches, cellulose and soy protein. Compostable plastics are non-toxic and decompose back into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass when composted.

Don’t get confused- compostable plastics are not the same as biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, or bio-based conventional plastics. Some of the first alternative plastics were hybrid plastics made of both petroleum-based and plant-based resins. These hybrid plastics were not truly compostable because they contained petroleum.

Read more about the differences between biodegradable and compostable plastics here.

What is compostable plastic made out of?

World Centric® compostable plastics are made from polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is made from dextrose, a sugar produced by plants. Currently, the most common raw material for PLA is field corn, although other plant sources may be used in the future. On average, the production of PLA resin uses about 52% less energy than the production of petroleum-based resins. Similarly, manufacturing PLA resin produces 80% less greenhouse gases than traditional petroleum-based resin (Source).

Learn more about the front-end environmental benefits of compostable plastics here.

How do compostable plastics compare to traditional plastics?

Our BPI-certified compostable plastics are an environmentally preferred alternative to traditional plastics like polyethylene and polystyrene for a number of reasons:

  • Made from plants instead of petrochemicals from fossil fuels
  • Manufacturing uses less energy and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions
  • Tested to be non-toxic
  • Freezer safe
  • Certified to break down in commercial composting facilities in 3 – 6 months
  • May be mistaken for traditional plastic by consumers
  • Not suitable for hot foods or liquids
  • Needs to be stored at temperatures below 110°F, away from hot surfaces and direct sunlight
  • Not suitable for home composting
  • Not accepted at many commercial composting facilities

Do compostable plastics biodegrade on their own?

Compostable plastics will not fully break down on their own, as litter, or in marine environments. They need to be composted at commercial composting facilities that have the equipment to grind up and compost material for a longer period of time, since it may take up to 180 days for compostable plastics to break down. There are over 85 facilities in the United States that openly accept compostable plastics, and more that accept it on a case-by-case basis.

What’s the best plastic for food service settings?

Compostable plastics are the best choice for foodservice ware that will have food residue. This is because traditional plastics should not be recycled if they are covered in food. Plastic that isn’t clean and dry will not get recycled, and will contaminate other recyclables. Read more about the challenges of recycling plastic here.

When using compostable plastics, the container, cup, and utensil can be composted along with the remaining food residue. Because food and food-soiled materials make up over a third of what goes in the garbage, composting makes a serious dent in diverting food waste from landfills.

What if compostable plastics aren’t accepted in your area’s green bin?

The most sustainable choice is using durable, reusable products. The second most sustainable choice is using products that can be composted with your local composting facility, since the product will have both “front-end” and “end-of-life” benefits. If your facility doesn’t accept certified compostable plastics, reach out to them to express your interest in being able to compost these products. With enough interest, they may start to accept these materials.

Finally, if you are choosing between certified compostable bioplastics that cannot be composted and traditional plastics, this eco-profile analysis data from NatureWorks shows that products made from Ingeo, not petroleum-based plastic, are the most sustainable choice in terms of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. This is true even if no composting option is available and the item must be sent to the landfill.

Instead of using petroleum-based plastics that create toxicity and environmental pollution, organizations and consumers can choose products made from compostable, renewable, and non-toxic bioplastics like PLA.


Written by

World Centric


Read time

4 minutes


Published on

Feb 28, 2019


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