Recycling, Composting & Common Misconceptions (Part 3: Making The Most Sustainable Choice)

Friday January 18, 2019 // By Dana Schlingman

Eco Products

Recently our vendor partners from Eco Products came to present a seminar about the disposables industry, their products and their sustainability efforts. I found the presentation so surprising and informative that I decided to do some more digging through Eco’s online resources. In this blog series, I share what I learned about the single-use products that we touch, trash and often take for granted. (See Part 1: Recycling 101 Part 2: Composting 101)


In my earlier Recycling 101 and Composting 101 posts, I took a closer look at these repurposing processes and their logistical challenges. Though both offer sustainability benefits, not all businesses have the resources or access to take advantage of them. So what's an environmentally conscious consumer to do? How can businesses make the most sustainable choice with their unique circumstances or limitations? In this post, I will discuss some of the factors to consider when trying to prioritize sustainability.

Zero Waste Zero Waste: Closing the Sustainability Loop
Ideally, businesses prioritizing sustainability should aspire to reuse, recycle or repurpose all of their resources to avoid producing any waste–thus achieving a zero waste status. In terms of single-use products (cups, lids, containers, utensils, etc...), that means striving to recycle or compost all single-use items. Furthermore, since most plastic products can only be recycled (melted down and recast) once, the truest zero waste alternative is composting since compostable products are completely broken down into fertile soil. Within a zero-waste system, resources/products are created, used and reconstituted
 remaining useful indefinitely in a continuously repeating cycle known as the sustainability loop

Closing the Sustainability Loop with CompostingHowever, because not all businesses have access to commercial composting or even recycling facilities, this comprehensive approach may not be feasible. When it's not possible to close the sustainability loop entirely by repurposing resources (by composting or recycling them), it's still possible to make sustainable choices by focusing on the beginning of the loop and the beginning-of-life benefit of a product.

Beginning-of-Life Sustainability Benefit 
Products made from renewable resources or recycled material have a beginning-of-life benefit because they have a lower environmental impact when they are created. Renewable ResourcesFor example, products made from recycled rather than virgin materials repurpose waste. Likewise, products made from renewable resources (replaceable or growable like corn) rather than non-renewable (finite, non-replenishable like oil) materials do not deplete earth's limited resources. Plus, some renewable products like PLA cups made from corn have an even lower environmental impact because corn can be grown or restored quickly whereas other renewable crops like trees (used to make some paper cups and containers) take much longer to regrow. Whether or not these types of products with a beginning-of-life benefit will ever be repurposed (to garner that later end-of-life benefit), they have already made a contribution to sustainability.

Suggestions About How to Make the Most Sustainable ChoiceRecycle

  1. If you have access to a commercial composting facility, composting is the most sustainable option because it makes use of renewable resources and it completes the sustainability loop ensuring that resources remain usable. (Try Eco Green Stripe compostable products.)

  2. If you are unable to compost, check to see if you have access to a recycling facility and whether or not they are able to process and sell the types of plastic in the products that you use. If both conditions are met, recycling would be a great option. (Try Eco Blue Stripe post-consumer products–some are recyclable.)

  3. Unable to compost or recycle? Try to use products that have a beginning-of-life benefit–products made from post-consumer waste or renewable resources. (All Eco Products have a beginning-of-life benefit)

In any circumstance, be mindful of the disposables that you offer. Are there ways to encourage customers to use reusable cups, straws or containers? Also, are there ways to educate your customers about sustainability? Often customers will be more mindful about what they request and use when they understand the impact of their choices and the difficulties faced when trying to repurpose disposables. 

Want to Learn More? Here Are a Few Additional Resources:
• Check out this great article from Barista Magazine: Zero Waste Talking Trash About Coffee: An Overview of Reducing Waste In Cafes by Ana Mallozzi & Jonathan Levy
• Learn more about Eco products: FAQ about Eco Products & Eco Blue Stripe & Green Stripe Product Lines
• Check out Eco's blogs: 
Sustainability Squad Blog & The Dish Blog

I hope you've found this series helpful and informative as you consider ways to move toward sustainability!

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