society zero zero waste shop glasgow compostable is it really better?

Ditching the plastic in the name of the environment has never been more fashionable. Unfortunately, what is becoming the ‘trendy’ alternative, is funky compostable, biodegradable and bio-plastic solutions. But…are they solutions? Or is it a case of greenwashing?

We have all seen people proudly displaying their coffee, soup, market food or take-away cutlery, saying the words ‘it’s fine because its compostable, see!’. However, do we really understand what this means?, or what this actually does when we dispose of it?

First of all, it all depends on where you dispose of it. And second to that – if how we dispose of it really matters at all. There have been numerous messages into my inbox asking whether a compostable/bioplastic disposable item can be put in the bin, recycling, compost or food waste bin. Well, here it is (hopefully) broken down.

Can you compost/food waste at home. Unfortunately, the answer is no.

No matter what’s on the label, compostable or biodegradable cups, straws and plates can’t go in your food and garden bin. And here’s why.

society zero zero waste shop glasgow compostable cups green cups

The irony seeing a ‘green’ cup thrown on the ground as litter, it won’t be broken down in our food waste/bins, but it definitely won’t be broken down on a pavement…, image courtesy of Less Waste Laura 

As an initial observation. Biodegradable and compostable do not mean the same thing.

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean very different things.

1. A substance or object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms

1. Something that can be used as compost when it decays

Simply, biodegradable items can break down within the environment with the help of bacteria or other living organisms. However, this is not necessarily good for the planet. For example, some plastic bags can biodegrade into tiny pieces in around 20 years but they are still harmful to the environment – turning right back into out micro plastics problem!

Furthermore, if something is compostable, it means it is made of organic matter and it can completely break down to make nutrient rich compost.

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Back when I got my church to swap from plastic bottled water to VegWare cups…better because its avoiding large amounts of plastic, but not great because we still have a problem…things have changed now with their reusable KeepCups but it is important to be transparent and highlight the mistakes we have made in the past!, image courtesy of Less Waste Laura 

If it is compostable, why can’t it be recycled in my food and garden bin?

This is all about the timing. In comparison to food waste which takes about 6 weeks to break down in a vessel composting facility, compostable coffee cups for example take years to breakdown.

Furthermore, these compostable coffee cups, take-away boxes and cutlery have specific conditions, which are not always the same as our food waste collection sites. So, in among nice food compost are the intact remains of disposable eating appliances! Crazy!

The only non-food item to go in your food/garden waste should be the compostable food bin liners, these are thin potato starch which does take about the same time as normal food. Other bigger and thicker products DO NOT.

So if it’s not food or garden waste, it belongs in your general waste bin.

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Never being caught out needing anything single-use! Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail image courtesy of Less Waste Laura

So if plastic is bad, and compostable, biodegradable and bio-plastic options are bad, what IS the solution?

Ditch single use items and choose reusable alternatives. It is 2019 and there is no excuse for single use. There are too many alternatives, not to avoid. It is simple, make a small investment into a reusable item, save money over the long run, and stop producing any waste!



Zero Waste shop in Glasgow

162 Queen Margaret Drive,  Glasgow G20 8NX


  • MON – 10-7
  • TUE – 10-7
  • WED – 10-7
  • THU – 10-7
  • FRI – 10-7
  • SAT – 10-6
  • SUN- 10-6
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