Biodegradable, Sustainable, Compostable, Oh My!
How to Source Responsibly in the Greenwashing Era
Consumers want sustainable products. Fortunately, many products proclaim to be just that. But what does sustainability really mean, and how do you know the product you’re offering truly is?
The marketplace is overflowing with products touting natural, sustainable, recyclable, compostable, eco and green qualities. These terms are reassuring, whether or not they accurately describe the product or even carry any weight. And often, they don’t. That practice is known as greenwashing – the act or practice of making a product, a policy or an activity appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is.1
Greenwashing is prevalent because there is little oversight of how these terms are used, making it especially challenging for those in hospitality to know what they are really getting when brands present a product. Take straws that proclaim to be derived from agave that are actually comprised of traditional plastic with a hint of agave. Or paper straws, which have terrible user experience but are utilized because they seem to be a natural, sustainable choice. Paper, it turns out, doesn’t biodegrade in landfills much faster than traditional plastic2 and the byproduct of biodegradation may be toxic to the surrounding environment. Additionally, studies have confirmed that chemical coatings and adhesives are frequently used to make paper straws more durable.3
Certification and/or compliance with globally recognized standards are the only way to guarantee the sustainability of a product.
*ASTM, an international standards organization, has set a global standard for a product to be considered industrial compostable and another to be certified marine biodegradable.
*TUV Austria, which certifies bioplastics, and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) are two of the organizations that can certify whether a product is industrial compostable, home compostable, and/or marine biodegradable.
*The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sets standard requirements for home compostability.
When a food service brand can show proof of certifications like these, franchisees and restaurateurs can proceed with confidence, both in selecting that product and in delivering it to their customers. Many traditional materials can’t provide that proof, while technology is developing new alternatives that can, with even fewer environmental tradeoffs. Bioplastics, particularly PHA, are a leading example. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is a substrate derived from the fermentation of canola oil. It is certified marine biodegradable and home and industrial compostable. It leaves no microplastics, toxins or glues behind. And while its environmental impact is not zero, bioplastics have been shown to produce fewer greenhouse gases in production than petro-plastics (Harding et al., 2007). It is progress, not perfection.
So, instead of taking a vendor who claims sustainability at their word, tell them to prove it. phade, which produces PHA straws, can.
Learn more about phade and its crusade against greenwashing at phadeproducts.com.
1 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Greenwashing. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greenwashing
2 DCW. (n.d.). Plastic Vs Paper Straws – Which Is Actually Better For The Environment? Retrieved July 26, 2022. https://www.dcw.co.uk/plastic-vs-paper-straws-which-is-actually-better-for-the-environment/
3 Timshina, A., Aristizabal-Henao, J.J., Da Silva, B.F., et al. (2021). The last straw: Characterization of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in commercially available plant-based drinking straws. Chemosphere, 277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.130238