Numerous companies 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 houses are using in their desire to be seen to be as environmentally acceptable and sympathetic as possible.
Many are now offering reusable mugs to drink in store, or that you can buy and then return to receive a rebate.
Hundreds of websites have sprung up now offering biodegradable disposable tableware and “to-go" products.
What many do not realise 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 eating establishment switching its type of paper cups from the standard oil based lined item to the new in vogue PLA coated “biodegradable" types and advising us how they are single handedly saving the planet I feel it is necessary to point out a couple of things.
Firstly these PLA coated biodegradable cups will not 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 authorities; and many councils treat waste differently from one location to another. Some will collect your waste products 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 coffee shop.
One of the main problems with the short sighted efforts of these (usually large) companies trying their upmost to be seen to be doing the right thing is that they do not consider where their waste ends up, how these new products are produced or how they should be handled in order to make the most of their biodegradable attributes.
Biodegradable paper coffee cups can create more waste if not properly sorted at waste recycling facilities, 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 issues.
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 coffee 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 bins and contaminating their contents.
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 - plunging 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 costs to customers, something a lot of people will have noticed in the last year. . .
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