By: Mercy Oyadare, Natur-Tec® Marketing Coordinator
I’ve been working for Natur-Tec®, a division of Northern Technologies International Corporation (NTIC), which is a sector that manufactures compostable and sustainable, biopolymers and bioplastics, for just over two months. I’ve never worked in the bioplastic industry before, so with the help of my supervisor and the Natur-Tec® team, I dove headfirst into education and training on materials, policy, and more. So here are my three key takeaways when it comes to the topic of bioplastics: education, accessibility, and participation.
Education is crucial for effective green and zero-waste initiatives. If people don’t understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ there is little reason for them to send their food scraps to an industrial compost facility as opposed to a landfill. Prior to working at Natur-Tec®, I wasn’t aware of the fact that up to 70% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) that is buried daily into our earth can be composted or recycled in a more purposeful manner. This same lack of education contributes to the contamination that is seen at the compost facilities which disrupts the composting process.
I’m not aware of what the current practice is, but information on sustainability and a circular economy wasn’t taught in schools when I was growing up. For the average person, I can only assume their knowledge of this growing field is limited unless they are actively seeking it out. There is a greater societal push to take care of our planet, but these topics aren’t what most people are most interested in discussing on a regular basis. If you took a glance at any popular social media feed, you’d see what I mean. That is why I applaud cities, municipalities, compost facilities, bioplastic producers, and others who don’t fall into those categories for their education efforts. By continuing to share facts, analyses, and tips in a way the average person can comprehend, widespread knowledge will only increase which will better the recycling process and in turn help our planet.
Education is also important for people to understand how bioplastics divert food scraps from landfills. Especially when we have a new article appearing each day with misleading information attempting to discourage the use of compostable plastics. Compostable bags, like our product Natur-Bag®, help with the ‘ick’ factor that comes with food scrap collecting. Using our bags cuts down on the cost of labor and cleaning products as well as the smell associated with the process. When these turnoffs are avoided, people are more inclined to complete the compost cycle and ensure their collections are properly disposed of at an industrial compost facility.
In short, accessibility is hard. Pertaining to the end-of-life for organics captured in a compostable bag, the cycle is only complete once that bag reaches the compost facility and not everyone has a facility nearby. There are plenty of people and companies with sustainable and zero-waste knowledge that want to send their organics off for compost, but there isn’t a facility within a reasonable distance. That situation is discouraging, and I wish I had the end-all, be-all solution for this matter. But hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before food scrap and yard waste collection become common practice for everyone.
I’m fortunate enough to have an organics drop-off location two minutes from my residence. When I learned that I was thrilled to begin my own scrap collection and easily and properly dispose of them. To be honest, if I couldn’t find a drop-off location eight minutes or less from where I live, that may have turned me off from the process completely. And I’m sure this would be true for many other people as we have grown accustomed to convenience in this country. If you’re unaware of the food and yard waste collection protocol in your city, I’d encourage you to get online and do some research. There are even Facebook groups you can join where you can share knowledge and ask others questions you don’t know the answer to.
Access to proper education, compostable liners, and a facility all further the mission of becoming largely zero-waste in this country. It takes time to see good things come to fruition, so in the meantime, it’s crucial to be resilient and do your part any way that you can.
My last takeaway is that doing your part matters. Ensuring that the compostable bag with your yard and/or food waste is disposed of correctly; meaning that it is delivered to a compost facility and not simply carted off to the landfill. This simple diversion lessens your carbon footprint and returns those organics back into nutrient-rich soil to be sold and boosts the economy—just another bonus. There is no shame in starting off small and allowing scrap collection habits to grow over time. Even with my small bag of scraps I send out each week, I know over time I had a hand in producing nutrient-rich soil that will continue the carbon cycle.
As far as it goes for larger establishments like restaurants and sports complexes, starting scrap collection with the back-of-the-house staff first to get a good grasp on the process is effective. That way you’re allowing your team time to learn and perfect the process and at the same time, you can educate your clients and customers, share your zero-waste efforts, and give them a heads-up idea of what’s to come.
Something that I appreciate about Natur-Tec® is that we are more than just a distributor of our products. When it comes to the educational aspect of scrap collection, we provide information and resources, and we are eager to answer any questions you may have. Sort anxiety is something you may come across when starting up a sort collection system. A way to combat that is placing signs above each of the bins (compost, recycle, and landfill) providing examples of what waste goes where to eliminate contamination. In this case, Natur-Tec® provides our customers with the ability to customize and generate signs to reflect the types of waste that come out of different facilities.
Doing your part, whether on a small or large scale, is an integral part of helping the only planet we get to call home. This information may not have been groundbreaking, but it doesn’t hurt to consider a fresh perspective on the bioplastics field since these are my thoughts and realizations I’ve had as I’ve learned these past couple of months. So, thanks for taking the time to read through to the end. And with that, go and be green.