Monday, July 5, 2010

Compostable Plates That Are Not a Lie?

How many times in the last couple of years have you encountered a product that was obviously made to allow its manufacturer to cash in on the mainstreaming on environmentalism?  Surely you've noticed the green-washing of your grocery store, and probably a ton of other places where you shop.

For example, Clorox rolled out the Clorox Green Works line of products, made of natural (and, thus, not regulated) ingredients in 2008.  While these products are "greener" than straight Clorox, they are not as green as, say, vinegar + baking soda + elbow grease.  As Treehugger says, they are "better than the conventional alternative, but not perfect."

There are lots of products that started out as a bad idea, got green-washed, and remain a less-poisonous version of a still bad idea.  Most organic junk food fits into this category.  Sure, there aren't any chemicals in that highly processed corn-cookie, but that doesn't mean you should be eating organic high fructose corn syrup and free-range trans fat.  

Another of these is the concept of the corn-based disposable plastic plate.  Sounds great, right?  A disposable plate that is made of corn and breaks down in the compost.  What could be the matter with that?  Well, a couple of things, actually.  Corn is fraught with problems (deliciousness is not one of them).  So-called compostable plastic won't actually decompose in your backyard compost pile, but rather needs the high temperatures of an industrial composting operation.  And, you know, why not just use a plate that you wash, rather than one you throw away? 

This long and meandering rant on green-washing leads The Frugal Hostess, at long last, to her point.  A few weeks ago, a company called Leafware contacted her to offer some free samples of their new compostable, disposable plates and bowls for a possible review.  TFH was very skeptical, believing as she mentioned above that disposable anything is irresponsible.  She peppered the PR person with questions and planned to write a post that would expose the disposable plate business as the dirty racket she knew it was.

Except, it appears that these plates are actually pretty freakin' cool.  They are made out of fallen palm leaves and water.  First the fallen leaves are gathered and dried, then molded into plate shapes.  When you finish using it, you throw your plate into the compost pile, and - since it's made out of a leaf, rather than corn plastic - it decomposes.  Simple as that.  It's apparently a Southeast Asian traditional practice. You can read their story here.

What do you think about this idea?  The plates are great-looking and would be perfect for a party, especially since you wouldn't have to do dishes afterward.  They are also not as expensive as FruHo expected, ranging from $.58 - $.70 each.  Is this a disposable option that an environmentalist can love, or is it another example of a bad idea that's been green-washed?

P.S.  Watch the Facebook page for photos of a Leafware plate as it spends time in FruHo's compost pile.

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  1. Hi, I just found your site as a result of the link to this item from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. It looks like you have some interesting posts and I will check it out!

    But with regards to these plates, my take is more negative.

    Regarding palm leaf plates:

    Presumably these are made from leaves collected from palm oil plantations, not by wandering about in the jungle.

    Things to consider:

    Palm oil plantations in South Asia are blamed for deforestation and wildlife loss (including orangutans) See:

    Are pesticides and herbicides used in the palm growing process?

    What chemicals are used in cleaning the leaves and bonding them together? (does "press" fully describe the process?)

  2. More negativity here because I am the ultimate skeptic when it comes to "green" products. Where are these palm leaves shipped from? If they're shipped from afar that's a lot of fuel burning and global warming. And how much energy is used in the production of these plates?

    Instead, how about regular plates? And with the following suggestion I reveal why though I am frugal I am never a hostess: If your party is so large you don't have enough plates, have your guests bring along their own plates! You can have them take the plates home dirty, too, so you don't have to wash them! What the heck, have them bring their knives and forks, too.

  3. Hmm, both very good points. I'm going to ask the company rep and see what their response is. Maybe my best solution to the dish-washing issue is to fill up the bath tub and have the guests drop their plates off there as they leave? :)

  4. Does pretty count? 'Cause they are.

  5. They do look pretty, but I agree with you and the others that disposable anything is really a huge waste of resources. Perhaps if we could grow our own palm trees and just pick a leaf for each guest to eat off and then throw is straight in the compost.... or go back to the days of medieval pilgramages, when each person carried their own plate, cup and knife with them as they travelled!


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