FAQs - Composting & Recycling

How long does it take your compostable products to break down?

This is a great question with a complex answer! How long it takes something to break down depends on what kind of material it is (e.g., a piece of paper breaks down much more quickly than a corn cob), what kind of composting technology is used (e.g., a backyard pile overseen by a gardener is very different than a commercial facility with millions of dollars in equipment to manage moisture and temperature), and what climate you’re in (e.g., the dry Arizona desert is very different than the humid Pacific Northwest). Most of the compostable products Novolex makes are designed to be composted in commercial facilities, where temperature, moisture, oxygen, and other factors can be carefully monitored. The Biodegradable Products Institute certifies many of our products, and the testing upon which that certification is based allows up to 180 days for biodegradation to occur. However, given the number of variables involved, in reality there is a wide range of time in which compostable products to break down. Some composters have successfully composted packaging in as little as 45 – 60 days. For more information on the composting process, check out this video by Eco-Products: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_27lJ3NQO4&t=3s

Can I put your compostable products into my backyard compost?
We recommend disposing of Ingeo products in a commercial compost facility where they can be broken down, turned into compost and then returned to the soil. Home composting typically does not create the consistent composting conditions needed for our products, but commercial facilities can manage just fine.

Commercial compost facilities are expanding around the country and there may be one in your area. To find a compost facility near you, please visit the US EPA website or check out Find A Composter

Do compostable products breakdown in landfills?
Compostable items are designed to be composted in a compost heap only. Composting is a very specific process which does not occur in landfills. Microorganisms, carbon, water, oxygen and nitrogen are all essential parts of the compost process and these factors need to be present in the right circumstances (such as in a compost pile) for composting to occur.

If compostable products are placed in an open landfill or dump where oxygen is available, they will decompose at a rate similar to other biodegradable materials in the same setting. If compostable products are placed in the more common anaerobic (air-locked or capped) landfill and deprived of oxygen and micro-organisms, then the ability of the compostable products to decompose will be severely restricted. This is true of all biodegradable materials placed in this setting, including paper, yard waste and food waste.

As a consumer, you should be skeptical of any manufacturer making claims that their products will biodegrade quickly in an air-locked landfill. Eco-Products clearly labels and certifies all our compostable products to help consumers and composters alike.

Do compostable products make methane if they go into landfills?
In a capped landfill (the most common type of landfill in the US), our products and most plastics will remain stable and not be a significant contributor to methane emissions as far as we know. Most compostable bioplastics break down in aerobic composting scenarios best, and composting is not a significant source of methane. Composting is a specific aerobic (oxygen rich) process which occurs in compost piles only, not inside sealed anaerobic (oxygen deprived) landfills. Other bioplastics have shown different results in landfills, and some bioplastics are being engineered to behave differently in landfills. Eco-Products uses Ingeo plastic exclusively in our compostable products, and it is tested and clearly marked for commercial compost only.

Methane in landfills results from organic materials that end up in anaerobic (air-locked or capped) landfills and are deprived of oxygen and micro-organisms. Over long periods of time, organic material slowly degrades anaerobically resulting in the creation of methane gas. Methane gas is more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2 over its lifetime. Landfills are the second largest source of man-made methane emissions in the US, and much of this is attributed to the long legacy of organic matter anaerobically decomposing in the landfill and making methane gas. This is why it is more important than ever to keep as much organic matter like food scraps, yard waste, and agricultural waste out of the landfill. Plastics are generally stable in the landfill, and things like foam will stick around for a very long time – we are not sure when they will ever really break down.

Learn more directly from our Ingeo manufacturer NatureWorks http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options

Do your compostable products breakdown in a digester or accelerated composter?
It depends. Ingeo items do not breakdown well in most digesters. We recommend that you check with your digester manufacturer directly to see if foodservice items will affect the performance of the device. Technology is always changing, so we hope that more digesters can work with Ingeo in the near future and we like to hear about models that do work with Ingeo or other bioplastics. For now, we recommend that Ingeo go into a land-based commercial compost facility only.

Compostable sugarcane and paper items may work better in digesters, but again, we strongly encourage you to check with the manufacturer first. Remember, that the majority of hot cups, soup cups, and paper food containers are lined with a plastic or bioplastic lining. Even if the paper works in your digester, the plastic lining may pose an issue.

Do compostable products breakdown better if they are shredded or chopped into smaller pieces?
Not necessarily. Clear Ingeo foodservices items will break down at about the same rate regardless of size (extremely large or dense items may take even more time). The composting process primarily depends on heat, moisture, and time, and even small pieces of Ingeo require the same conditions to start composting. Paper items may break down faster in smaller pieces, but commercial composters know their systems well and often will chop material into the ideal size for their needs.

Are your compostable products marine degradable?
No, our products are not certified as marine degradable and we strongly encourage everyone to keep all plastics out of oceans and waterways.

Land-based commercial compost facilities have the ability to maintain ideal composting conditions and sustained heat and moisture needed for Ingeo to break down entirely with the appropriate soil bacteria, yeast, and fungi. The ocean is salty and filled with life that is affected when plastics enter the water. The compost process does not occur there. Additionally, there is more and more research all the time showing the harmful effects of plastics in the ocean, including the impacts on birds that often mistake plastics for fish and eat them.

Please help keep our oceans and waterways free of litter and plastic and dispose of any waste responsibly.

How do you certify your compostable products?
Our compostable items meet the ASTM standards for compostability. They are certified to meet these standards by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) which uses scientifically based standards to determine if a product is compostable in a commercial facility. Products cannot contain the BPI logo unless they have been officially certified. So look for the words "BPI Certified" and you can be confident that your product will break down in a commercial facility.

If I can't compost, what should I do?
For disposal, naturally we recommend composting if it's available, but if not, please dispose of all foodservice items responsibly. Even if these items head to the landfill, this is preferred to leaving items to escape as litter into the environment. There is still an important environmental benefit to choosing Eco-Products items over traditional foam or plastic items that contain no recycled content or renewable materials.

Some of your products are compostable. Is that the same as biodegradable?
Biodegradable and compostable can be confusing terms. Technically, both words define biological processes, but they have become prevalent marketing terms as well. This tends to blur the difference between the two, which is understandably confusing!

Biodegradation is a larger natural process that can happen in a number of ways, including composting. Composting is very specific process that happens only in situations with the right microorganisms and environmental conditions – and it creates humus, water, and heat. Other biodegradation processes do not make humus, which is an important part of soils.

Other things "biodegrade" in different ways, such as in water, with sunlight, heat, or even chemicals, but compostable products breakdown (or biodegrade) into compost through the composting process only.

Our products are certified compostable by a third-party organization called BPI and they meet the strict ASTM composting standards for each material type. That's why our products are labeled "compostable" and not "biodegradable". In the US, the Federal Trade Commission publishes a "Green Guide" that outlines the rules for environmental marketing claims. It is our go-to guide to avoid greenwashing and the reason we do not label our items as 'biodegradable". Unfortunately the term 'biodegradable' has no strict legal definition, so look for the words "BPI Certified" to ensure your compostable item meets the best standards for compostability.

Learn More FTC Green Guide

Are your products recyclable?
In short, probably not. Here's why: We have 2 lines of products; our GreenStripe® items that are made with renewable resources and our BlueStripe™ items that are made with recycled content materials. Not all of these materials can be recycled most places in the US.

Most of our GreenStripe® items are compostable. So when you are done with these renewable GreenStripe® items, like Ingeo bioplastic products, they can be disposed of in a commercial compost facility instead of the landfill. Here they are returned to the soil as compost.

Our BlueStripe™ items are made from post-consumer recycled PET plastic, polystyrene or fiber, so we are excited to give a second (or third) life to these materials. Unfortunately, it can be hard for some recycling facilities to capture these items – instead, their environmental benefit lies in their front end materials. For these items, please dispose of them responsibly and only recycle them if they are accepted.

Coming soon! There are some regions where #1 PET recycling has expanded and you can put our BlueStripe™ PET items in the recycling bin. It's not everywhere yet, but hopefully one day soon. We encourage you to check with your local municipality or materials recovered facility (MRF for short) to see if they are accepted and if not, to learn when they will be.

Note: It can be tricky to tell the difference between a clear Ingeo corn cup and a nearly identical cup made from petroleum-derived plastic like PET or even recycled PET. Check out the resin identification number on the bottom of the cup – Ingeo cups are labeled with #7 and PET cups are #1.

Recycling facilities can have problems with Ingeo items, so it is important to separate compostables from recyclables into "clean" waste streams. Because Ingeo and PET mix about as well as oil and water, recyclers consider Ingeo a contaminant and compost facilities have a hard time cleaning PET out of the compost.

Learn more directly from our Ingeo manufacturer NatureWorks http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options

Are your hot cups and soup cups recyclable?
Today, very few communities recycle paper hot cups of any type. This is because separating the cups’ film lining from the paper can be difficult and because food contamination can decrease the value of the material.

Hot cups in our GreenStripe® line (i.e., GreenStripe, WorldArt, Slate, This Is Why) are made with renewable resources. These cups are made with paper from trees harvested in North America; they are lined with Ingeo™ biobased plastic, made from corn grown in the U.S. They are certified to be commercially composted after use. If you are not lucky enough to have a commercial composter in your area, these cups should be sent to the landfill.

Hot cups in our BlueStripe™ line (i.e., BlueStripe, Evolution World) are made with post-consumer paper fiber and a polyethylene lining. To our knowledge, our 24% post-consumer fiber is the highest percentage of post-consumer material in this type of cup! These cups are not compostable, and because of the challenges mentioned above with recycling paper hot cups, they are not recyclable in most communities either. Eco-Products is participating in industry initiatives aiming to increase the recyclability of hot cups and other foodservice packaging. We hope that one day soon, diverting these products from the landfill will be the norm and not the exception.

Which material is better for the environment – Ingeo™ or recycled PET plastic?
The answer is: it depends!

Here at Eco-Products, we look at our products from a life cycle perspective. Our cups have a beginning, middle and end of life. For our cold cups, some of them have great beginning of life attributes, while the others offer great end of life benefits. However, a key piece of the environmental success of our products depends on you.

Simply choosing Eco-Products over conventional products helps drive markets, keep good companies like us in business and show the industry where consumers are motivated. If that is all you can do right now, that is a great start! Some of you can do more by composting or even recycling (where accepted) some of our products. The best environmental solution is the one that works with you.

See our GreenStripe® and BlueStripe™ page to learn more about each product's attributes and what fits into your life right now http://www.ecoproducts.com/greenstripe_vs_bluestripe.html