April 3, 2008

Ecological Tableware: Disposable Plates, Cutlery & Cups

by Steve Garvey

This category includes products used in food service and for informal dining such as picnics. [The information below applies in cases when washable and durable tableware are not utilized or practicable.]

One way to reduce one’s ecological footprint is to use plates, cups, and napkins made from recycled paper. Another way is to use products made from recycled plastics (such as the Preserve brand). Another is to use less durable but reusable tableware such as that made from bamboo. Bambu Veneerware® is a popular brand, and widely available (

Disposable paper products products can also be made from bagasse, a natural by-product of sugarcane processing. Two manufacturers of bagasse products are StalkMarket (available through and EcoWare (through

StalkMarket products seem to be sturdier than Ecoware, and a 9 inch plate costs 10-15¢, depending on amount purchased. Here is a blurb from

Bio-degradable, recyclable, and home compostable

• Made from 100% bio-degradable, compostable sugar cane fiber (Bagasse) that is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Supplies of this material are virtually unlimited worldwide and the use of Bagasse products eliminates the dependence of traditional wood fiber based materials in disposable tableware. Diversion of the Bagasse into the making of the tableware saves harmful air pollution from occurring due to the open burning of this formally thought of waste product from the sugar refining process.

• Each item is press-formed at 200º Celsius (392º F) forming a rigid platform and sterilized piece at one time. In addition, each item is sanitized a second time utilizing UV light prior to packaging.

• Product is capable of handling boiling water or oil up to 212)º F and is both microwavable and freezer safe.

• After use, product can be recycled for the making of paper, or 100% catabolized as compost.

• Cost effective and earth friendly products for both the home and institutional use.

• Packaging with house brand in the size, style and package quantity of your choosing or bulk pack for institutional use.

• Variety of sizes, shapes and uses.

• Cut proof resistant.

Besides products made from bagasse, the other innovation in ecological tableware is in the field of bioplastics, which can be used in the manufacture of cutlery and cupware. Here is a blurb from (an online fair trade and eco store):

Bioplastics are a new generation of biodegradable & compostable plastics, derived from renewable raw materials such as starch (e.g. corn, potato, tapioca etc), cellulose, soy protein, lactic acid etc., that are not hazardous in production and decompose back to carbon dioxide, water, biomass etc. in the environment when discarded. Cornstarch is currently the main raw material being used in the manufacture of bioplastic resins. Mater-Bi (main component corn-starch), and PolyActide (PLA) (made from corn-starch as well) are currently the 2 main resins (raw materials), being used today in the production of compostable & biodegradable plastics and are certified for compostability under standards set by international organizations. However, other resins are coming into the market made from potato starch, soybean protein, cellulose etc. Most of these are currently not certified for compostability, though some are for biodegradability. The field of bioplastics is constantly evolving with new materials and technologies being worked on and being brought to market.

The following information is also important. From

Biodegradability & Compostability

Bioplastics can take 90-180 days to totally compost based on the material and are meant to be composted in a commercial composting facility where higher composting temperatures can be reached. Most existing international standards require biodegradation of 60% within 180 days along with certain other criteria for the resin or product to be called compostable. It is also important to make the distinction between degradable, biodegradable, and compostable, as these terms are often used interchangeably.

Compostable According to the American Society for Testing & Materials, in order for a plastic to be called compostable, three criteria need to be met:

1) Biodegrade – break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper).

2) Disintegrate – the material is indistinguishable in the compost; that it is not visible or needing to be screened out

3) Eco-toxicity – the biodegradation does not produce any toxic material and the compost can support plant growth.

[Note that “home compostable” is a further degree of compostability, not applied to bioplastics.]

Biodegradable Plastic will degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganism, such as bacteria, fungi etc. over a period of time. Note that there is no requirement for leaving “no toxic residue” and as well as no requirement for the time it needs to take to biodegrade.

Degradable Plastic is plastic that will undergo a significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions resulting in a loss of some properties. Please note that there is no requirement that the plastic has to degrade from the action of “naturally occurring microorganism” or any of the other criteria required for compostable plastics.

A plastic therefore may be degradable but not biodegradable or it may be biodegradable but not compostable (that is, it breaks down too slowly to be called compostable or leaves toxic residue)

Another manufacturer and brand is Cereplast Compostables™, whose “resins are renewable, ecologically sound substitutes for petroleum-based plastic products, replacing nearly 100% of the petroleum-based additives used in traditional plastics. Cereplast Compostables™ resins are starch-based, made from corn, wheat, tapioca and potato starches that primarily come from the).” (

An assortment of brands are distributed by Excellent Packaging (, as follows:


Biodegradable Cutlery made from 80% starch (potato or corn) and 20% soy or other vegetable oil. Able to withstand High-Heat!


Paper plates, cups, trays, bowls, and boxes made from plant fibers, either grown or recovered as crop residue. May be sugar cane, wheat bamboo or rice based pulps. Microwavable, ovenable and freezable, biodegradable, compostable and sustainable.


Made from bamboo, rice, or sugar cane and corn starches. Sturdy disposable food containers are microwave, oven and steamer safe. 100% biodegradable All natural, no bleach, chemicals or lamination. Oil and hot water resistant.

NatureWorks™ PLA

Made from corn grown in the USA, PLA (PolyActide) is used to make clear plastic cups, bowls, boxes, straws and can liners. Biodegradable, compostable and sustainable


Bags and can liners made from Mater-Bi, derived from cornstarch. Used for T-shirts bags and can liners. Biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and burnable.


Food films made from renewable wood-pulp. Suitable for wrapping and bagging food. Ovenable, heat sealable, biodegradable, compostable and sustainable.


Paper hot cups and soup containers made with a PLA lining, making them fully compostable, biodegradable and sustainable. carries Jaya brand bioplastic eating utensils, at 20¢ per set, for example.

Coop America’s Green Pages list the following resources in the food service category:

• Asean Corporation (Stalkmarket):

Biodegradable, compostable sugarcane tableware. Uses waste fiber from sugarcane. Raw materials renew themselves in 12 months. Home compostable. Sturdy and heavy duty.

• Full Circle Industries:

A wholesale company offering compostable dinnerware products as an eco-friendly alternative.

• Greener Earth Marketing:

Manufacturer of tree free, natural or white disposable food service packaging. Custom make various products with alternative paper and non-GMO starch derived biodegradable plastic.

Note: Many of the companies and brands in this article are manufactures and/or wholesalers rather than retailers. Their products and web sites are sometimes geared toward institutional use or re-packaging under a house brand.


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