Is It Really Eco-Friendly?

by Dean Gallea

I’ve recently seen serviceware (plates, utensils, cups, etc.) products offered online as “eco-friendly”, using wheat straw as a component. Wheat straw is a by-product of wheat farming, and is normally collected and used as animal feed. So, completely substituting it for plastic in single-use (“disposable”) serviceware is a good thing.

However, using wheat straw as a “filler” material along with plastic in non-disposable items is a really bad thing!

Not only does the wheat straw shorten the lifetime of the serviceware, requiring more-frequent replacement, but the combination material is not recyclable and would actually contaminate plastic recycling.

What’s more, the touting of these products as environmentally friendly when they are actually the opposite is the essence of “greenwashing”, the dastardly marketing practice of profiting while circumventing peoples’ good intentions. This also leads to consumer confusion about what is actually beneficial.

Look for the Signs!

So, how do you tell the good from the bad? Look for the signs of a “filled” product: If the description includes “poly”, “polypropylene”, or “PP”, that’s plastic. If it says “dishwasher-safe”, it’s not a biodegradable or compostable product, as very hot water degrades truly biodegradable items.

And, if you plan to put the item into a commercial composting stream, look a logo from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the European equivalent:



Example of a “good” product:

Example of a “bad” product:

Lastly, remember the first two R’s in “Reduce, reuse, recycle”: Question whether you really need a single-use item. Anything you can use over and over reduces the flow of raw materials into the waste stream, and reduces the energy needed to produce a new product.