How many people do you know take pictures with their blackberry of paper plates in BJs? Probably just me, but I had good reason to be excited. Here in front of my lovely doe green eyes was a package of 165 Chinet Classic White paper plates that I could compost in my magical composter!
Some of you are murmuring. “Um, Anna, I don’t get it. I know you love gardening but I just don’t see the connection.” Okay, let me explain. Up until that astonishing moment at BJs, my only hope for a greener large party was using biodegradable plates and silverware. So, what is wrong with that?
A lot. Biodegradable plates can only be composted in a commercial facility, not my backyard composter as grand as it is. How many of you have commercial composting facilities available in your areas? The closest one that I have is in the middle of the state. I don’t know whether I can just take a 45 minute drive down to their facility and hand them a bag of my biodegradable plates and cups, and say “Go forth and compost.” Doubtful.
Throwing biodegradable plates in your trash is not much different than throwing away plastic plates. Both do not decompose in a landfill for a very long time. Don’t get me wrong. I think biodegradable plates are wonderful if you have a commercial composting facility at your disposal.
Back to the little white plates. This weekend I was set to host a school function with 90 plus adults and kids. Going out and buying service for 100 was not an option. I struggled with how I was going to serve all those people without using Styrofoam or coated paper plates? As I mentioned earlier, driving 45 minute to hand over my plates, seemed a little absurb. But to be honest, I was prepared to do this. Call it anxiety. Call it eco guilt. Call it crazy. Welcome to my life.
As I stared lovingly at my package of Chinet’s compostable plates dreaming of our future together, I flipped over the package to see if there was any more information about the plates. On the bottom of the package was the below statement, which reads:
“This product meets ASTM D6868 and is designed to be composted in a professionally managed facility. Check to see if such a facility exists in your community.”
Reading this was equivalent to having thought I won the lottery but realize later that I read one of the numbers backwards. (Okay, perhaps not that melodramatic, but you have to understand how tire deflating this was.)
Has to be composted in a commercial facility? What the heck? I was furious. All I could think was Chinet was green-washing and someone’s job was definitely on the line especially after I (and my green moms carnivals members get through with them. Think Verizon network but all dressed in green.)
I bought the plates anyways since the plate were quite pretty and the price was right. (I think the package cost about $14.00.) I knew there had to be an explanation. That weekend about 150 plates were used between breakfast and lunch. I separated the food from the plates and hand washed the plates just in case I could compost them in my backyard.
Wondering why I washed them? I have two compost piles. One small composter one near my fenced garden and another large one outside the fenced area which contains just leaves. I was afraid I would encourage rodents to eat the food on the plate if I buried them in the leaves. Probably silly, but this is how my mind works. (I know. My poor husband. He just lets me do my thing.) All 15o plates were stacked in a pile on my countertop waiting their final destination. Either the commercial composter or the backyard composter. (Is the suspense killing you?)
Just so you know, if those plates did not have balsamic vinegar dressing stains, they looked and felt pretty darn good even after I washed them. I could have used them again and no one would have been the wiser. They were still as strong as when I first used them.
First thing Monday, I was on the phone calling Chinet. Their communication director was out of town. I left a message and on Tuesday afternoon, I got that fateful call. Eric Happell, the Director of the Fiber Business Unit of Huhtamaki, the parent company of Chinet, called me to answer my 100s of questions about the product. He assured me right off the bat the product was indeed home compostable. He did not see me do the Snoopy dance.
But I pressed, what about the information on the bottom of the package saying you can only compost the product in a commercial facility? Happell explained the US Composting Council approved the product for commercial composting, and thus, the language can not be modified since it is the US Composting Council’s seal of approval.
During our conversation, Happell explained that the plates are made out of pre-consumer scraps of ice cream containers, milk cartons, and other containers. But how can ice cream and milk containers be compostable? Don’t they have a plastic coating on them, I queried Happell.
Chinet has thought of everything. The Company soaks the containers and separate the plastic from the containers. The paper becomes plates and the plastic is sold to be used in products like decking. Thinking I had him in a corner, I asked, “so what about all that water you are using?” Happell did not skip a beat and explained they clean the water and re-use it. At this point in time, I am just lovin’ this Company.
How long has this product been around, thinking Chinet is just hopping on the obvious green wagon. Then Happelll dropped a bomb shell on me.
“Since 1930′s,” he replied.
“1930′s? ” I gasped.
“How long has it been made of recycled products?”
“Since the 80′s,” Happell futher explained.
I started to get a little agitated since I view myself as a very, very educated green person who is basically a snotty know it all when it come to being green. How did I miss this one? So I asked, “how long has Chinet carried the composting seal of approval?
“Um, five years,” Happell replied.
Happell realized that I was astounded and explained that they really haven’t marketed their product as green since their priority has been quality of product and good price point. A modest green company. How novel.
So where are my 150 plus plates now? I scattered a few in the composter to see how they would compost.
The rest are scattered in my leaf pile. I then put leaves on top of them. It takes about 60 days for the plates to biodegrade. So, next spring they will just be part of my leaf mulch with memory of that delicious balsamic dressing and how Chinet got one by me.
Readers, have you used these plates?
What is your favorite biodegradable and/or compostable dinnerware?
When you throw a large party, what do you use for plates, cups, etc?
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