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Can You Compost a Word Salad?

At the beginning of any zero-waste journey, the vast number of eco-friendly words and symbols can make a person want to give up. Biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, bioplastics HDPE, organic waste, post-consumer, and on and on, the list is endless.

And after you've traveled a bit down that greener path, occasionally you experience a variety of feelings surrounding your efforts to leave a smaller carbon footprint.

At times, you’re elated: You just replaced your plastic zip bags with beeswax sandwich bags, which are biodegradable, meaning you can throw them in your compost bin.

Once in a while, you feel downright cranky. Like when you're in the grocery store and everything seems to be packaged in plastic. Even the food labeled, "Organic" is snugly covered in plastic wrap. Or you think you have it all figured out, until you encounter that one odd piece of plastic that broke off your vacuum cleaner and you really don't want to throw it in your trash can but there's no information on it to tell you where it should go.

And there's anger. You're on a hike and you notice dozens of filled plastic poop bags left on the trail by pet owners who think they're being eco-conscious by picking up their dog's waste, but don't seem to realize or care that they've left a pile of non-biodegradable stuff that will be there for a long, long time.


If something is biodegradable, micro-organisms like bacteria or fungi can break it down. However...

Biodegradable materials can take months, years, or even centuries to break down, whereas compostable materials decompose into natural, nutrient-rich products at a much faster rate.

For a product to be labeled as biodegradable, it must quickly (between three and six months) decompose into natural materials (according to Control Union and BPI - Biodegradable Product Institute).


Then there's "fed-upness." You're fed up with the hundreds of companies claiming to be green, called greenwashing. They sell eco-friendly products, but lots of them contain some polyester components and they're all packaged in non-recyclable plastic.

And finally, there's the over-arching feeling called "zero-waste angst," sure to eventually become an entry in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Those of us who've embarked on this journey are trying to do the right thing, but don't you agree that sometimes it's just exhausting questioning every choice you make? From the minute you wake up until you go to bed, you've spent a lot of that day feeling like you're just not doing enough to reduce, reuse and recycle. I've left plastic stuff on my kitchen counter for weeks until I figure out which bin or bag it can go in. You just want to give up.

What do the words recyclable, biodegradable and compostable mean? What are biodegradable plastics? What are compostable plastics? Why am I here on this planet?

Where to go to find the info you need

I just found out that the symbols and logos on the bottom of our plastic bottles, tubs and pails can’t tell you if they’re recyclable or not. According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, the plastic recycling number system actually serves no purpose: the consumer cannot do much with it and the waste separators don't use it.

You can find out more about the recycling codes on the Plastic Soup Foundation site. If you want to know if something is recyclable, before you toss it in one of your bins, you should do an online search. Earth911 has an excellent site that can help you figure out what can be recycled. Check out their Recycling Center Search & Recycling Guides

The best way to reduce the amount of plastics in the environment is to reduce your use of them or reuse them. Recycle and compost whenever you can.

I hope this blog post helped. If not, compost it.

Other resources

TerraCycle® is a social enterprise, operating in 21 countries working to dispose of and manage nonrecyclable products.

Leading companies work with them to take hard-to-recycle materials from Terracycle's programs, such as ocean plastic, and turn them into new products.

They’ve diverted millions of pounds of valuable resources from landfills all over the world.

Learn about Terracycle®️

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