Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Greenware - C'Mon, Son!

Picture of a new 2009 Greenware cup (left) and a "100% compostable" 2008 Greenware cup after 13 months in my commercial-size composter. Still looks like plastic to me. Note that the new cup does not claim to be compostable OR sustainable......just "eco-friendly."
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I've heard environmentalists cry and whine about "greenwashing" for a few years now, and their claims all seemed kind of tenuous. Until I confirmed it for myself. Take for example, the company Greenware. The company has done some amazing business by making drink cups (and I assume other products) out of corn oil or some distillate thereof. I purchased a tasty beer at an outdoor event in June, 2008 and it came in one of these cups - the first I had ever seen. It said "100% compostable" on it! I was so excited about it, that I kept a few of the cups and threw them in my 64 cubic foot commercial-sized compost bin. It made me happy to think that the material would eventually be back in my garden, and that according to Greenware, the cup was made from "sustainable" resources (a fact sharply disputed by the revelation that the cups are made of genetically modified corn). Let's also ignore the fact that everywhere these cups are served, thousands of them are thrown in the trash, to be hauled to the landfill or incinerator like any other plastic garbage. Greenware would say, "Well, the landowner should contract with an industrial composter to haul them off." So be it.
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As I tended my compost bin over the summer and the following spring (I obey all the basic rules of composting and get pretty amazing results), I occasionally turned over a cup, or a piece of a cup. They didn't seem to be getting very brittle, or certainly any more brittle than a petroleum-based plastic cup would be when exposed to 120 degree heat for months at a time. I continued to get fully processed, great, dark compost out of my bin all year long, so I know that the conditions in the bin were near-optimal.
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In the summer of 2009, it was time to haul out the "low batch" of compost in the bottom of the bin - a full year had passed since I had incorporated that material (including the Greenware cups). Every single cup and lid were accounted for, and while crushed under the weight of other compost, were generally intact.
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So here's the bottom line: Greenware is a great example of greenwashing. Confronted by the fact that their "100% compostable" and "sustainable" product is neither, they abruptly changed their materials to claim that their products are merely "eco-friendly." A corporate vendor's website states: "Just plow them under or throw them in your compost bin," and the cups will be reduced to compost in "months." Greenware's own website takes a slightly different approach, "100% compostable in actively managed municipal or industrial facilities, where available."
I'm no lawyer, but those two statements are not the same. How did their vendors get the idea that these were compostable by residential compost facilities? Not from Greenware, I'm sure.
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Greenware supplies a link to EVERY compost bin in the United States capable of biodegrading Greenware. There are forty-four. No, silly, not just in your county! 44 Total! There appear to be less than 10 south of the CT/NY border, south to Florida, west to Texas, and up the Mississippi River (looking east). So while Greenware continues to claim, "we totally promise these are compostable," they are completely aware that most consumers (and municipalities) do not have access to a composting facility that can handle Greenware. They are literally selling a compostable item that they already know will not be successfully compostable, in 90%? 95%? 99%? of cases. Let's just say, "the vast majority of consumers cannot compost this product at all."
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I'd like to ask you all (all both of you, ha ha) to take a look at the products you're purchasing. If they claim to be "green" or "sustainable" or "organic" and you're paying a lot more for them, please look a little deeper into their claims. If it's another Greenwashed product, you'd be better off just buying the conventional product and saving your money. And you know what'd be even better for the planet? Buying less to begin with.

100% compostable? Nay, Greenware!
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Update: Greenware does indeed have a "No Greenwashing Pledge." In that pledge, they remind their customers that their products are meant to be "disposable;" that is, unless you have an "actively managed municipal scale composting operation" (that meets Greenware's standards) in your town (remember, there are SIX such facilities between New York City and Dallas, TX; and 44 TOTAL in the United States).
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Now THAT'S corporate honesty. I'm sure they really believe that all of their consumers who use their "100% compostable" cups live within driving distance of one of those facilities!

1 comment:

megan said...

Thanks for this. I was about to try composting a cup in my VERY tiny composter. Glad I read your explanation.