When we started to refurbish the trailer in 2017 we were also just starting our own journey in terms of becoming more conscious of our enviromental impact. A journey that continues to grow, and not in small part contributing to why we have both recently turned vegetarian (don't judge us meat eating friends we still love you)! Its only baby steps, but baby steps gain momentum, hopefully...
We therefore spent a large amount of time and research reading up on what the best options for the bar were. I have sited some articles at the end of this that you might find interesting if you are into this stuff (if not you can skim read the highlights below which has influenced some of our own decisions).
We initially jumped straight into providing 100% compostable disposables believing this was the best thing we could do in a 'disposable' world in attempt at reducing plastic waste. We still provide these for events where we know that our customer will dispose of them responsibly, and/or there is provision at the event for disposing of compostable materials.
However we have since realised that '100% compostable' disposables are not the most enviromentally friendly/wisest solution for most of our events for a number of reasons I have listed below;
1.Essentially 'compostable' means that in an industrial composting facility—they are able to break the bio-plastic down into tiny pieces and compost it with very high heat—it will biodegrade or compost. In order to break down, they must be composted in an industrial composting facility where temperatures get very high due to the immense volume of compost. Another issue is that even when they are composted, the quality of the compost is not very good. The “compostable” bio-plastics break down into a very sticky, resin-y debris that creates poor compost that’s not rich and nutritious for plants like compost from truly organic materials.
2.Most compostable utensils are made with corn. Corn is an annual crop that is intensive to grow and is usually grown in a monoculture system. It has to be seeded and watered, and the soil tilled. The corn that is used to make the bio-plastics is not organic, and there’s a lot of pesticide use as well. The end result is that valuable agricultural land was used to create something that just gets thrown away.
3.Compostable items cannot be recycled, because they’re not plastic obviously. So alarmingly this means IF you put them into recycling accidently, it messes up the whole waste stream. This is because when the recycling arrives at the sorting facility, if they find items that can’t be recycled such as the compostable cups/utensils etc, rather than taking the time to sort it all out, they just send it [all] to the landfill where it will take just as long, potentially longer, to decompose as some plastic items. So there’s a big potential negative impact on the recycling stream as well. The number of compostable items we were finding in our mixed recycling after an event was huge and sorting through all this at the end of event a pretty messy unpleasant job, and of course this was just what was left with us; lots of guests were taking the cups and depositing them in bins elsewhere, without any real thought or knowledge of if they were using the correct bins and where they might end up.
4. If compostable items are gauranteed to be disposed of responsibly then they are arguably the way forward (considering point 1 & 2 debatable), but currently we are not in a position where these are being disposed of correctly/responsibly in the UK. If they are sent to an industrial scale composting facility as its required (with actively managed piles of compost under controlled conditions) and fed a diet of digestive microbes, under the right temperatures PLA cups will break down in less than 2 months. But if put into someones garden compost heap, it could take more than a year, and if accidently sent to landfill and buried...it could take over a century (more than the recyclable plastic!)...and if they go into a plastics recycling bin they will contaminate the entire recycling process.
5.Disposing of any waste after an event is usually down to our customers so that is a lot of responsibility being handed over. For open public events (unless a large scale festival) there are rarely provisions for compostable materials. For the events where we agree to take away any waste with us- we discovered our nearest composting centre for such items is approx 20 miles from our home, and with the best will in the world it is unlikely we are going to make that trip to dispose of the items the items in this way after each event and neither were our customers.
For the above reasons we opt to use recyclable plastics, which can be recycled along with your standard home curbside recycling, a more realistic options for us and our customers. It also ensures we will not be contributing to contaminating any recyclable items by enabling well intentioned consumers placing disposables in the incorrect bins. It also allows us at public event to at least sort our own waste responsibly.
We also have a large number of hard reusable plastics that we hire out as an option for our customers. In addition we also offer to take care of organising glassware for events where appropriate.
So that's the cup conundrum covered I think. However we are also open to debate, so if you have any advice or other views on this please get in touch, we are 100% open to discussion, options and changes. As our recycling/composting sophistication in the UK increases I'm sure further changes will be adopted but at this time we believe this seems to be the most responsible methods. With regards to straws- we use paper straws, however we are now also stocking pasta straws which can degrade over time as a food source.