Compostable Plastics: Godsend or Greenwashing?

Plant-based plastics are on the rise! Perhaps you've seen them at markets, restaurants or events - cups, produce bags and utensils stamped in green lettering, "compostable," "made from corn," and "earth friendly."
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Great, right?
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Not so fast. The thing about compostable plastics is they actually need to be composted - a crucial step that both businesses and consumers are skipping.
When you throw bioplastics in the trash, they go to landfills, where there's no light or air to break them down, contributing to landfill crisis and pollution just like standard plastics.
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Bioplastics require extremely specific conditions to break down, typically only found in industrial composting facilities. Even if the business or consumer did manage to properly dispose of it in a city compost bin, there's still a good chance it'll end up in a landfill. The US has around only 200 composting facilities, and most won't even accept compostable plastics. Check your local composting guidelines. 
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Without the intense heat and constant rotation of industrial composting, bioplastics won't degrade on their own in a meaningful timeframe, either in the environment or in home composting. When a "compostable" cup ends up in the ocean, it's really no different than conventional plastic - breaking down into micro-sized pieces over decades, presenting a danger to marine life.
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In an increasingly food-scarce world, there's also the question of if we should be diverting agriculture from food sources to single-use products. Growing feedstocks like corn and sugarcane for bioplastics cuts into farmland and resources used for food production and leads to deforestation in countries like Brazil. 
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Compostable plastics are also not recyclable. On the subject of recycling, keep in mind that China has stopped accepting our recycling in an effort to crack down on their own emissions and meet the standards of the Paris Agreement. This means that American recycling is going to landfills, environment and mass incineration. It doesn't mean we should stop recycling - we need to incentivize domestic recycling - but it does mean that we can't rely on this system to solve our plastic problems.
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The best way forward is to avoid single-use plastics, period! Carry your own cup wherever you go - the solution is as simple as that. Educate those you meet on the dangers of greenwashing. Incentivize by example!
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