Truths about bioplastic cups

Published on July 20th, 2023

Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana is the world’s leading ocean conservation organization that engages, educates, and activates the sailing and boating community toward restoring ocean health. Their recent update made us think about so many regatta parties in which single-use plastic cups fill the trash cans.

Bioplastics have been promoted as a solution for plastic pollution, which on the surface seems like a good idea, but as with so much that is presented as an environmental solution, some of the truth is lost in the promotion. If you are involved in regatta parties, here is some information from Sailors for the Sea:

What are bioplastics? Bioplastics are plastics that are derived from biological substances, such as corn, rather than from petroleum.

Are they compostable? It depends. Because these cups or cutlery are made from biological sources, they can theoretically return to the soil. However, most bioplastics only break down under very specific circumstances – your backyard compost pile is likely not going to cut it.

Are they recyclable? No. Only plastic made from petroleum is recyclable through municipal systems, though even these are not recycled efficiently.

What else should I know? The biggest question to consider with bioplastics is: how am I disposing of this? If you have curbside composting set up, talk to your waste hauler. They will probably have recommendations based on materials they know will break down in their facilities.

If you don’t have a composting option and your single-use items will be sent to the landfill, it’s better to stay away from bioplastics of any kind. Bioplastics in the landfill behave just like petroleum-based plastics: they don’t break down. Choose durable and reusable items instead.

Also, beware of greenwashing! Claims of “compostable” or “biodegradable” are not regulated the same everywhere, so just because it says it on the cup doesn’t mean it will break down in any situation.

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