Sustainable Catering Ware: Eco-Friendly & Disposable?

We stock and sell eco friendly disposable catering ware such as cups, bowls and other food containers. Because our larger community is passionate about sustainability (hurray) we sometimes get questioned: How can catering ware that is single use and contains an internal plastic lining possibly be considered eco-friendly? It’s a great question. We ask it ourselves. 

There are no simple answers, but: our eco friendly catering ware is made of environmentally friendly materials, is 100% carbon offset, and will have a much lower impact on the environment than traditional single use catering ware. And while the products that we supply may not always be disposed of in the best possible way at present, it is one stage on a long journey towards sustainability.

Compostable, biodegradable materials

The eco friendly bowls, cups and other catering ware suitable for hot foods that we stock are 99% FSC certified plantation wood with a thin lining of PLA. PLA is a plant-based plastic, made from non-food grade plants such as corn and is certified 100% biodegradable and compostable.

In the case of catering ware, this means that the bowls and cups will compost in a commercial composting facility, within a typical 8 week time-frame. They will not compost readily in a home composting system because most home composts just don’t get hot enough. If the catering ware is not commercially composted then it is also certified biodegradable – meaning that it will be broken down by microorganisms like other organic matter, but there is no specific time period.

Now, we are aware that many of these items will never see an environment that is conducive to composting or biodegrading. But some will. There are more and more commercial composting facilities in Australia, and it is getting more realistic for the hospitality industry to work with them to ensure composting of disposable catering ware.

TEDxSydney composts catering ware

At the biggest yet Sydney Tedx gathering in 2017, the organisers wanted to make a difference to the amount of waste. They sourced 100% compostable cups, bowls, takeaway boxes, wooden cutlery and napkins. Food scraps and compostable packaging were collected in source separated organic bins with compostable liners. Biopak’s partner Soilco collected the compostable waste the day after, and removed it to their commercial facility to be turned into compost. 

For a list of commercial composting facilities that accept eco friendly catering ware, click here: Commercial Composting Facilities

Certainly this is the way of the future – as we can see from Hobart’s proactive plans for banning single use takeaway containers by 2020. ‘Eventually we’ll have a compost system for commercial outlets and all the compostable organic material from cafes and restaurants will go off to a facility’ says Hobart’s Alderman Harvey. Read more.

And for the eco-friendly catering items that DO get to landfill, they are 100% carbon offset.

100% carbon offset

We only supply eco friendly catering ware that is 100% carbon offset from cradle to grave. Our primary supplier for cups, soup bowls and other hot food containers is Biopak, a company which takes into account the possibility that the catering ware may end up in landfill. This possibility is part of their equation when they guarantee that they 100% carbon offset all phases of the life cycle of these products. We don’t want them to go to landfill, (we don’t want anything in landfill) but if they do go there – that option has been carbon offset.

One stage in a journey

The sustainability industry – which we are passionately involved in – has certainly not reached an ideal state in regards to eco friendly disposable catering ware. We would love to see 100% compostable disposable catering ware AND every single item actually composted. That’s the goal. We are at the point where compostable items are becoming more readily available and more commercial composters are accepting them.

It’s not a perfect scenario but we’re moving in the right direction – we hope. We also hope that many businesses will move back to using reusable catering ware. Washing up reusable items is always the best eco-friendly choice. However, we recognize that for some businesses or events this may not be a viable option and eco friendly disposable catering supplies are the next best choice. We believe that if we can support the development of the sustainable catering ware industry we’ll reach the goal eventually.

So if you feel that the term ‘eco friendly disposable catering ware’ is a contradiction in terms and offers a false sense of security to the businesses buying these products – we sympathise. But we also believe that as long as disposable catering products exist then they will contribute to a more sustainable world when they are:

  • – made from eco-friendly compostable and biodegradable materials
  • – 100% carbon offset throughout their life cycle
  • – part of an ongoing dialogue and journey towards sustainability 

Great questions = better answers

We greatly appreciate the passion of our customers and larger community, so please keep asking questions and challenging the status quo. We do the same thing with our suppliers. Before we choose to stock their range – we ask question after question to be sure that they are knowledgeable about what the sell, and that they are ‘walking their talk.’ This dialogue is essential to the ongoing development of eco friendly options, and a more sustainable world. Thank you!

4th August 2017 by Lucinda Flynn & Elisabeth Bromley

-with particular thanks to Emma Wake whose questions inspired this blog