Chinet’s Compostable Paper Plates Green, Recycled, and Landfill Free

Chinet compostable plates

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.

Chinet compostable plates

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.

Chinet compostable plates

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?)

Washed Chinet compostable plate

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.

Chinet plates in the composter

So where are my 150 plus plates now?  I scattered a few in the composter to see how they would compost.

Chinet plates bound for composting

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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Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Wow this is all great news. And thanks for doing the sleuthing to find out the truth. While I try to avoid one-use disposables I can see how that wasn’t really an option for an event like this! My one question to Chinet would be: What about that plastic bag they come in? Any change they could change that packaging over to something compostable/biodegradable?

    • 2

      Green Talk says

      Green Cat, I agree with you about their plastic bag issue. I meant to ask this. I got caught up in the moment. Since I am sending them my article, I will mention this. Anna

  2. 3

    Max says

    There are basically three types of plastics which are considered to be more environmentally friendly which are: Compostable, Degradable and Biodegradable plastics.
    Compostable plastics are commonly called Polylactic Acid (PLA) are made from plants. Here is the U.S. most PLA is made from corn. PLA is compostable but must be processed by a commercial composting facility. As you found out, there aren’t many commercial composting facilities so most PLA will end up in a garbage dump. PLA doesn’t biodegrade quickly so once it finds its way into a landfill it will remain there for a long time.
    Degradable plastics degrade through photo degradation and oxygen degradation isn’t biodegradable plastic, they are degradable plastics. Degradable plastic breaks down (degrades) into smaller and smaller pieces until they are too small to see. The plastic doesn’t biodegrade; it just gets too small to see.
    The third type of plastic is a truly biodegradable plastic, and will biodegrade leaving behind biogases and humus. A recently introduced biodegradable plastic is the ENSO biodegradable plastic bottle with EcoPure. The ENSO plastic bottle is standard Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic with EcoPure G2 additive. When placed in a microbial environment, the ENSO bottle will attract microbes which consume plastic in either an anaerobic (no oxygen) or aerobic (with oxygen) environment.

    There isn’t any one perfect answer that will solve plastic pollution. However, we are working toward a solution that will help.

    Max
    ensobottles.com
    “Bottles for a Healthier Earth”

    • 4

      Green Talk says

      Max, is ENSO virgin PET? And if so, then petroleum is being used to make them? Is there antimony in the product? When the bottle degrades in a landfill does it create methane gas?

      Also, isn’t there also PVA plastic as well which is being used in lieu of PVC? Anna

  3. 5

    says

    That is awesome to hear that Chinet has been doing this for some time, and they’re making an effort to certify its compostability and let people know about it.

    But.

    But there’s an even better option out there. Recycling paper takes a fair amount of energy, both in the collecting of it and the processing into usable material. Verterra are made directly from fallen Palm leaves, steamed and cut into shape, the remains made into fertilizer, given back to the farmers where the leaves are collected, near the Verterra factory. Fully UV sterilized.

    It takes 90% less energy to make these as compared to recycled, and being one piece of material (vs a composite of many) it’s quite durable, having no problem even with hot liquids. And they can be used in both a regular oven and a microwave.

    And since there’s nothing coating them (ie lacquers/waxes, as is common with many other plates) they are quickly compostable, producing richer soil as compared to paper.

    They’re out in about 450 stores in the US now, plus online. Have a look, at http://www.verterra.com (store locator in top right corner)

    If anybody has questions, I can check back to answer.

    • 6

      Green Talk says

      Paul, I absolutely love Verterra and have written about them. I still have the plates given to me to try. I have washed at least 10 or more times. (Maybe more times…) Once they kind of lose their shape, I put them under something heavy, so they go back to being flat again. I dread the day I have to put them in the composter.

      That’s great news about the plates being in 450 stores. Please make that 452 stores which would include Bjs and Costco!

      One of the reasons I bought the chinet plates was price point. 165 plates for about $14. Although Verterra has come down in price, they are still more expensive. But your point is true. Verterra is a less intensive product, and absolutely a conversation point.

      Anna

  4. 7

    says

    Anna I’m glad Verterra has worked so well for you. I think that what people choose depends on their priority for the event. If it’s purely functional/price oriented, then going with something like those Chinets may be the way to go. But if the event is special and they want something unique and memorable, and should they want to, reusable, Verterra is something to consider.
    .-= Paul Smith´s last blog ..Verterra: A Green Company Effectively Reaching Beyond “The Choir” =-.

    • 8

      Green Talk says

      Paul, I definitely agree. If I was having a family event and I needed to use disposables, I would use Veterra. (Of course, I would rewash them because it is hard for me to part with them…) Anna

  5. 10

    says

    I’m blown away! I’ve eaten off of Verterra before, although I’ve not purchased them myself. It never occurred to me that Chinet would be doing so much. I still wouldn’t use disposables on a regular basis, but for those occasions when I do…that’s good to know!

    Be sure to give us an update in the spring. :-)
    .-= Kathleen McDade´s last blog ..Bicycle Commuting Mama: Anyone Like Me? =-.

    • 11

      Green Talk says

      Kathleen, you and me both. You should have seen me in BJs! I was straying at the packaging. People must have thought I was out of my mind.

      BTW good for you bicycling mama. It is subzero here in NJ. Anna

  6. 12

    says

    These Chinet plates compost just fine for me, although I do have very active barnyard piles with lots of manure. I’ve also placed them in my bin which is mainly for food scraps. They can act as a carbon-rich layer much like you would layer leaves among your food scraps to get a good mix of greens and browns. I find them useful for adding carbon to the bin this time of year since my leaves are frozen and will likely be under snow until March. How’s that for an excuse for a wintertime party?

    • 13

      Green Talk says

      Lynn, now there is a green idea! A wintertime party with a night time throwing the plates into the manure bin…Anna

  7. 14

    Jim says

    Anna, have you done or are you going to do a post to keep us up to date on how those Chinet plates are composting? I just learned today about Chinet’s efforts while researching the issue for my office, and would like to learn how well they break down as I’ll probably be taking everyone’s rinsed plates home to my compost pile. Thanks!

    • 15

      Green Talk says

      Jim, I put the plates in the pile in the winter and lots of them were still there when spring started. I figured that I needed hot weather for them to compost? Mind you, I did not shred them but simply buried them among the leaves. Some are still there. I have a feeling that you have to be an active composter (ie keep the compost damp, turn it, etc) for the plates to decompose. I could probably use some more green in this pile which may be causing the plates to not decompose.

      I am lazy, lazy, lazy when it comes to compost and let Mother E do her magic.

      How do you deal with your compost pile?

  8. 16

    Jim says

    Oh, I’m pretty lazy myself – I just turned it all over about a week ago for the first time since fall. I did notice the iTunes card in there is still in pretty good shape, but everything else breaks down pretty well on its own. I’m going to be building a three-bin compost thing soon to do a little better of a job; we’ll see how it works out.

  9. 17

    Alexis says

    Anna,
    Did you happen to ask the Chinet folks about dioxins? Although they use post-consumer material, I’m a little concerned about how very white the plates are…

    • 18

      Green Talk says

      Alexis, they said they don’t use dioxins but since they are talking it from already milk carton, I wonder if dioxins are in the original product? What do you think?

  10. 19

    Alexis says

    Thanks. It’s good to hear Chinet isn’t using any dioxins. I don’t know about the pre-cycled containers though. My guess is they have some — less than they had 10 years ago, but enough to make me think twice about spreading potentially carcinogenic compost around my tomatoes. Of course I hate to see the plates go to a landfill, and the dioxin release is worse when they are incinerated. Oh, the dilemmas. Like you, I suffer from the “anxiety, eco-guilt and craziness” of weighing these choices. Thanks for researching it and posting. (I had the same reaction as you when I found the giant pack of Chinet in Costco with a label that said I could compost them at home. Pay dirt!)

  11. 20

    Kristen Paris says

    I used these plates and they left white stains on my solid wood table!!! Any ideas on how to get these stains off my table. I will never use this product again.

    • 21

      Anna@Green Talk says

      Kristen, did you call the company? Wow, they are just paper. I wonder what happened. Are they white stains from hot food on the plate? My lacquer which is the coating that protects the table came up once from hot material set on the table. I always use a place mat now.

      Also, water will create white rings as well. Can you send me a picture? Anna

      • 22

        Marc says

        We just had the exact same thing happen. These plates left white spots on our dining table right where hot casserole was sitting on the plates. We’ve tried everything we know of to get them off, but no luck so far. I would love to hear of any remedies if anybody has one.
        I too will never buy these plates again.

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