Bins for disposing compostable wastes, recyclable wastes and trash at University of Washington, Seattle. (Photo by Suprasanna Aryal)
Day 1 in Seattle: a used-up plastic cup in my hands and three options-‘Compost’, ‘Recycle’ and ‘Trash’. My first instinct was to go for the second option. But I dropped it in ‘Compost’ and that’s where it perfectly belonged.
I was pretty much amazed to find out that almost all of the products I use for filling my drinks and packing my food in Seattle are compostable. I was impressed to find out that the plastic products are made of plant extracts, which can go back to the environment once they’ve been used. Also, a lot of recycling is encouraged in the city, leading to lesser volumes of garbage sent to landfills.
Food business being a very engaging business all around the world, there’s no denying that it produces majority of garbage. Thus, at a time when the world is having problems managing their wastes, using entirely compostable and recyclable products in restaurant and supermarkets, seems to be the perfect solution.
“It’s great if the garbage we produce can go back to the soil and help other plants grow. This is how the cycle can go on,” says Michele Riggs, Environmental Technician at Cedar Grove, an organization that tests the feasibility of the compostable and recyclable products used in Seattle.The organization also collects food and yard wastes and composts them. She adds that the composts produced at Cedar Grove are useful as manures for agricultural farms.
Shyam Kandel, who came to Seattle three years ago from Nepal for his PhD at School of Environmental and Forest Sciences,also shares that he was astounded by this green revolution going on. “Even my American friends from other states of the US praise how the city has been managing all wastes, especially the food and yard wastes.They wish there was a similar system in their cities, too.”
He observes, “There are lots of articles online, as well as brochures, that teach Seattleites about what waste is compostable or recyclable and what needs to go on trash.”
Everyone in the city seems conscious about the environment, and it’s very appreciable, he says, adding that if this was the case in other parts of the world, we would be able to reduce many environmental problems.
However, there are many challenges that arise when it comes to manufacture and use of compostable products.
“First of all, it’s a challenging task to identify if the products that manufacturers bring to us for testing are entirely compostable,” shares Riggs.She adds that checking if there’s any contamination in the products is equally difficult.
Furthermore, it will take a considerable amount of time to build a system where majority of the products we use are compostable. All the manufacturers, including wholesale and retail shopkeepers have to be convinced that it’s an important issue. Banning non-biodegradable packaging cannot be successful until they’re given alternatives.Meanwhile, we’ll have to make do with recycling.
“For takeaways or packing of leftover food in restaurants, compostable packaging is the best alternative,” shares Pat Kaufman, Recycling & Waste Prevention Specialist at Seattle Public Utilities. That way, it’s easier to dispose the entire pack after one consumes the food later, he elaborates.
Kaufman opines, “For grocery shopping, where the bags can be reused,using durable recyclable bags is okay. These can be disposed for recycling when they wear off.” Likewise, for soda and other drinks, it’s recommended that we use recyclable containers as they don’t have much residues left and the recycling process won’t be vulnerable to contaminations, he adds.
Compostable fork used at supermarkets in Seattle. (Photo by Suprasanna Aryal)
However, Riggs shares that recycling, the reclamation and reuse of materials, is a better option. “It’s better than composting which is the assimilation of materials,” she says.
Michelle Yan, a student of Biochemistry at University of Washington observes, “I like how the garbage we produce in Seattle are categorized and disposed off separately. In most of the places elsewhere,everything is put together and they all end up being dumped in landfills.”
Yan highlights that the amount of garbage produced has been increasing and if nothing is done about it, it will be very harmful in future. “The landfills will be unmanageable, causing more environmental and health problems. Thus composting and recycling should be emphasized starting from food business, which is an integral part of economy all around the world,” she concludes.
This story was produced in the 2015 SUSI program.