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"Green" Disposables: Why They're Not as Sustainable as You'd Think

As the world becomes increasingly environmentally conscious, people are searching for alternatives to traditional single-use plastic products. Many manufacturers have responded with a new generation of "green disposables," including bioplastics and paperboard containers that are marketed as compostable or biodegradable. However, it's important to understand that not all green disposables are created equal, and many come with their own set of limitations and challenges that can undermine their perceived sustainability.

One particular example of a green disposable posing as a compostable option is plastic-lined paperboard containers used for takeout meals and food delivery. On the surface, these containers appear to offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastic or foam containers. However, upon closer examination, their limitations and shortcomings become readily apparent.

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1. Plastic-Lined Paperboard Containers Can Create Composting Illusions

One of the key features of plastic or wax-lined paperboard containers, apart from their ability to prevent leaking, is their apparent compostability. Some manufacturers may advertise these containers as compostable or even biodegradable, creating an impression that they can be used to produce nutrient-rich compost to benefit the environment. However, the reality is that the plastic lining within these containers makes them unsuitable for composting.

The plastic lining resists breakdown and prevents the paperboard from breaking down into compostable material. Even if composting facilities accept paperboard containers with plastic linings, their presence can contaminate the compost and render it unusable. To make matters worse, the thin layer of plastic in these containers can easily go unnoticed, leading many people to inadvertently throw them into their compost pile, resulting in an ultimately unusable compost and wasted time and effort.

2. Plastic-Lined Paperboard Containers are Often Not Recyclable

Paperboard containers with plastic linings also present challenges when recycling. While the paperboard portion is technically recyclable, the plastic lining is not. The presence of plastic lining makes it difficult for recycling facilities to separate the paperboard and plastic for proper processing. As a result, these containers are often not recyclable in standard recycling systems. This results in a greater waste management concern as these containers often end up in landfills, where they can take years, if not decades, to break down.

3. Misleading Marketing Claims

Manufacturers and brands of disposable products have sometimes made misleading claims about the compostability of plastic-lined paperboard containers. Unfortunately, this confusion can lead to more substantial issues when it comes to waste management and environmental concerns.

In some cases, products that are marketed as compostable or biodegradable are not actually certified or meet sustainable and proper disposal standards. Customers may inadvertently purchase items that they believe to be eco-friendly, only to find out that you must dispose of them as ordinary trash, significantly reducing the environmental benefits associated with the decision to purchase them.

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4. Environmental Impact

The use of plastic-lined paperboard containers contributes to plastic pollution and waste generation. When these containers end up in the environment, they can have detrimental effects on the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and humans alike. Small bits of plastic within the containers can create focal points in which pollutants group together, creating harm and eventually poisoning wildlife. Microplastics can enter the food chain when they are consumed by animals that are later eaten by humans, highlighting a serious concern for the environment. The problem is only further compounded when we consider the sheer number of plastic-lined paperboard containers that find their way into landfill sites around the world.

5. Sustainable Alternatives

Relying on truly compostable alternatives is the best way to avoid confusion with green disposable items containing mixed materials. While truly compostable items may be more expensive, it's a small price to pay for an environmentally friendly product. The use of compostable options ensures that the product breaks down in a timely and eco-friendly way when disposed of correctly.

Other alternatives to consider instead of plastic-lined paperboard containers include:

  • Embrace reusable options: A reusable option is the most eco-friendly option out there. Encourage the use of reusable containers for takeout and food delivery by supporting reusable companies such as ShareWares.

  • Opt for Takeout Options with Truly Compostable Options: Choose restaurants or vendors that use packaging made from fully compostable materials, such as unlined paperboard or compostable plant-based plastics.

  • Insist on recycling properly: Discourage customers from putting the non-recyclable mixed products in the recycling bins. It rather makes it worse for recycling plants to aggregate their refuse.

In conclusion, sustainable alternatives such as truly compostable options and reusable containers should be prioritized over "green" disposable items such as plastic-lined paperboard containers. It's essential to understand that not all green disposables are created equal and to be mindful of the limitations and challenges of each product. Remember, prioritizing compostable, reusable, and recyclable products to reduce your environmental impact is the best approach to sustaining the planet.

Written By: Elaine Zhou

Published By: Lily Trinh


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