Image by Flickr user Zane Selvans One "corn oil" compostable cup two years after hitting the rubbish bin.
The Post and Courier has run a story highlighting the efforts of Bull Street Gourmet and Market as one of many local Charleston businesses that have switched from throwaway oil-based plastic cups and utensils to biodegradable ones made from corn "oil" extracts.
Take a read of the paper's feature here.
But let's expand a bit.
If you're like me, you'll ask yourself "Why don't businesses just recycle traditional plastic options?"
Unfortunately business recycling in Charleston is often quite costly and while Charleston County very much wants to reduce the amount of trash hitting landfills, widespread curbside service has yet to be offered and has met with resistance from private recycling providers.
While I would generally applaud the efforts of businesses to invest in bio-degradable plant-based products, it's unfortunate that simply offering re-usable cups and utensils is not time or cost effective for businesses.
The use of corn-based products to make "green" throwaways also comes with a hidden oil cost in the fertilizers used to grow the plant. And when these items reach the landfill instead of proper composting options, their ability to biodegrade may be greatly hindered — in effect, they may become only a more costly variant of a traditional landfill filling plastic cup.
To reiterate, the switch to these products carries much good, but it's important that we keep in mind the hidden costs.
If you're a business owner that's switched, or someone who's been involved on research in this manner, I'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or let us know in the comments.