Eco-Products FAQs

Eco-Products FAQs about Materials, Products, Composting and Recycling

Find Eco-Products FAQs about Materials, Products, Composting and Recycling here. Learn more about Eco-Products below.

PLA (a.k.a. corn plastic)

What is PLA or Corn Plastic? PLA or "corn plastic" is a biopolymer made from polylactide (PLA) that can be derived from starchy plants like corn, potatoes, tapioca, sugarcane, and soy protein. In the U.S., PLA is typically made from corn kernels that are milled and processed to extract the simple sugar dextrose.

These biopolymers perform like plastic, but are made from annually renewable resources like corn plants. PLA offers the cost and performance necessary to compete with traditional petroleum-based materials, but with the crucial benefit of being commercially compostable

What does the #7 code on your products mean? What number is used for bioplastics? The numbered codes you find on plastic containers identify the type of plastic resin that makes up your container. These are officially called resin identification codes and do not indicate recyclability - although they are the easiest way to learn which type of plastic you have when you go to recycle.

The #7 code stands for all plastic types that are not #1-#6 – it is a catch all category for all other types of plastic and plastic composites. So keep in mind that all #7 containers are NOT created equal. They all have different properties and end of life destinies. Look for the words "BPI Certified" to determine if you have a compostable plastic that can go into a commercial compost facility.

This coding system was developing in 1988 by the Society of Plastics when there were only six types of plastic materials that were used in plastic packaging. So, they were numbered 1-6. The #7 was added as "all other" to be used by new plastic materials types that were not in the marketplace in 1988 – or plastic types that are blends or composites. Unfortunately, the resin coding system has not been changed or revised since 1988, despite the expanding varieties of plastic types out there. This means that any new technological advancements in plastics, using bio-based materials like plants are automatically coded as #7 until new laws are put in place.

What if I am allergic to corn? While PLA is a corn-derived plastic, the extreme heat used in processing transforms it considerably and destroys any immunologically reactive profilin. Because of this, PLA should not cause an allergic reaction.

Do you use genetically modified corn in your products? Our corn PLA resin is manufactured near Blair, NE. This corn is a mixed stream of non-GMO and GMO corn which is grown in the area. During the manufacture of PLA, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer removes all traces of genetic material, rendering it inert once it has been made into resin.

The U.S. grows the most corn of any nation and as a result, the majority of PLA made in the U.S. is derived from corn – and of that, most of the corn is feedstock (not food corn). We recognize the value of sustainable, organic agriculture and follow the debate and the scientific research surrounding GM crops. One day, we hope to bring you exclusively non-GM PLA, but unfortunately the infrastructure is not there yet for us – or our industry.

If GMO is a concern for you, we offer cold cups made from 50% post-consumer recycled content PET. This is the highest percentage available of recycled PET in cold cups – they perform well, and are made from an entirely different material.

Because it is made from corn, does your PLA biopolymer take away from the food supply? Currently our supplier uses the dextrose made from No. 2 yellow dent corn because it is the most abundant and cheapest source of a fermentable sugar available in the U.S. In the future, the biopolymer they produce could use other sugars or non-food biomass as feedstock, but at capacity, NatureWorks uses less than one percent of the available U.S. corn crop.

Does PLA or corn plastic biodegrade in landfills, causing methane? While PLA is compostable, it will only biodegrade in the right conditions. Commercial compost facilities have the capacity to maintain ideal composting conditions and sustained heat and moisture needed for PLA to break down entirely with the appropriate soil bacteria, yeast, and fungi. In a landfill, our products are stable and do not breakdown readily. Landfills are anaerobic environments that are sealed. PLA does not degrade readily in these situations and according to our suppliers of PLA, it is not a significant contributor to landfill methane. We recommend disposing of PLA products in a commercial compost facility only.

Sugarcane (a.k.a bagasse)

What is bagasse (sugarcane)? Bagasse is made from sugarcane. Rather than throwing away or burning used sugarcane stalks, the pulp is made into a paper-like substance called bagasse which is then formed into a wide variety of products like containers, plates, and bowls.

How long does bagasse (sugarcane) take to fully biodegrade in the compost? Bagasse or sugarcane is fully compostable and breaks down best in commercial compost facilities. In commercial composting conditions, bagasse will compost in approximately 45-60 days. Composting may take longer in a home composting bin, so we recommend disposing of it in a commercial compost facility.


Do your products contain BPA? Our products are BPA free.

Will PLA melt in extreme heat? Yes. We recommend that our PLA containers be stored at temperatures less than 105°F (40°C). Remember to keep these products out of direct sunlight and in a cool, dry place. Keep in mind that our Plantware™ cutlery is made with a slightly different process that gives it a heat tolerance of about 200°F (93°C). If you need a solution for high heat items, check out our recycled-content products. For more please visit Smart Care of Ingeo biopolymer.

Do compostable products break down when put into the soil, water, left outside, or stored on shelves? Our compostable products are made from sugarcane and PLA, both of which break down best in commercial compost facilities. Soil and water are relatively cold environments that do not allow PLA or sugarcane to become biodegradable and break down. Retail shelves similarly do not provide an environment with the right composting conditions for these products to break down, so they maintain their integrity until they interact with composting microorganisms.

Is PLA or corn plastic edible? Our PLA is FDA approved for food contact and well-suited for a variety of packaging applications, but it is not recommended for human consumption.

Can I feed PLA or corn plastic products to my livestock? PLA is a biopolymer, and as with any plastic, it would be a foreign body if ingested and it is not recommended in case of injury or perforation. While PLA is compostable, it will only biodegrade in the right conditions.

Commercial compost facilities have the capacity to maintain ideal composting conditions and sustained heat and moisture needed for PLA to break down entirely with the appropriate soil bacteria, yeast, and fungi. We recommend disposing of PLA products in a commercial compost facility only.

What is the heat tolerance of sugarcane (bagasse) items? Sugarcane is heat tolerant like paper and can even be put in the microwave or the freezer. As with paper, extremely hot food might cause sugarcane to lose some of its strength, but it is one of the best compostable food service materials that can handle hot temperatures.

Can sugarcane (bagasse) products handle liquids and grease? Lined sugarcane products will hold liquids well and is grease and cut resistant. Unlined sugarcane works great too, but like paper, it may be more likely to loose strength when used with very hot foods or liquids.

Can I put sugarcane (bagasse) products in the oven? We do not recommend that sugarcane be used in ovens. Sugarcane fiber is heat tolerant like paper and is both microwave and freezer safe. However, as with paper, it will begin to lose some of its strength when in contact with extremely hot items or in the oven.

Recycling and Composting

How long does it take your compostable products to breakdown? Our compostable products break down in a commercial compost facility in fewer than 180days. Many of our products actually break down in as little as 45-60days, depending on the material type.

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) uses scientifically based standards to determine if a product is compostable in a commercial facility, so look for the words "BPI Certified" on our products and you can be confident that your product will break down quickly in a commercial facility.

Can I put your compostable products into my backyard compost? We recommend disposing of PLA products in a commercial compost facility where they can be broken down, turned into compost and then returned to the soil. Home composting typically does not create the consistent composting conditions needed for our products, but commercial facilities can manage just fine.

Commercial compost facilities are expanding around the country and there may be one in your area. To find a compost facility near you, please visit the US EPA website or check out the Find A Composter website.

Do compostable products breakdown in landfills? Compostable items are designed to be composted in a compost heap only. Composting is a very specific process which does not occur in landfills. Microorganisms, carbon, water, oxygen and nitrogen are all essential parts of the compost process and these factors need to be present in the right circumstances (such as in a compost pile) for composting to occur.

If compostable products are placed in an open landfill or dump where oxygen is available, they will decompose at a rate similar to other biodegradable materials in the same setting. If compostable products are placed in the more common anaerobic (air-locked or capped) landfill and deprived of oxygen and micro-organisms, then the ability of the compostable products to decompose will be severely restricted. This is true of all biodegradable materials placed in this setting, including paper, yard waste and food waste.

As a consumer, you should be skeptical of any manufacturer making claims that their products will biodegrade quickly in an air-locked landfill. Eco-Products clearly labels and certifies all our compostable products to help consumers and composters alike.

Do compostable products make methane if they go into landfills? In a capped landfill (the most common type of landfill in the US), our products and most plastics will remain stable and not be a significant contributor to methane emissions as far as we know. Compostable PLA plastic breaks down in aerobic composting scenarios best, and composting is not a significant source of methane. Composting is a specific aerobic (oxygen rich) process which occurs in compost piles only, not inside sealed anaerobic (oxygen deprived) landfills. Other bioplastics have shown different results in landfills, and some bioplastics are being engineered to behave differently in landfills. Eco-Products uses PLA plastic exclusively in our compostable products, and it is tested and clearly marked for commercial compost.

Methane in landfills results from organic materials that end up in anaerobic (air-locked or capped) landfills and are deprived of oxygen and micro-organisms. Over long periods of time, organic material slowly degrades anaerobically resulting in the creation of methane gas. Methane gas is more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2 over its lifetime. Landfills are the second largest source of man-made methane emissions in the US, and much of this is attributed to the long legacy of organic matter anaerobically decomposing in the landfill and making methane gas. This is why it is more important than ever to keep as much organic matter like food scraps, yard waste, and agricultural waste out of the landfill. Plastics are generally stable in the landfill, and things like foam will stick around for a very long time – we are not sure when they will ever really break down.

Do your compostable products breakdown in a digester or accelerated composter? PLA items do not breakdown well in most digesters. Technology is always changing, so we hope that more digesters can work with PLA in the near future. For now, we recommend that PLA go into a land-based commercial compost facility only.

Do compostable products breakdown better if they are shredded or chopped into smaller pieces? Not necessarily, PLA foodservices items will breakdown at about the same rate regardless of size (extremely large or dense items may take even more time). The composting process primarily depends on heat, moisture, and time, and even small pieces of PLA require the same conditions to start composting. Paper items may break down faster in smaller pieces, but commercial composters know their systems well and often will chop material into the ideal size for their needs.

Are your compostable products marine degradable? No, our products are not certified as marine degradable and we strongly encourage everyone to keep all plastics out of oceans and waterways. Land-based commercial compost facilities have the ability to maintain ideal composting conditions and sustained heat and moisture needed for PLA to break down entirely with the appropriate soil bacteria, yeast, and fungi.

How do certify your compostable products? Our compostable items meet the ASTM standards for compostability. They are certified to meet these standards by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) which uses scientifically based standards to determine if a product is compostable in a commercial facility. Products cannot contain the BPI logo unless they have been officially certified. So look for the words "BPI Certified" and you can be confident that your product will break down in a commercial facility.

If I can't compost, what should I do? For disposal, naturally we recommend composting if it's available, but if not, please dispose of all foodservice items responsibly. Even if these items head to the landfill, this is preferred to leaving items to escape as litter into the environment. There is still an important environmental benefit to choosing Eco-Products items over traditional foam or plastic items that contain no recycled content or renewable materials.

Some of your products are compostable. Is that the same as biodegradable? Biodegradable and compostable can be confusing terms. Technically, both words define biological processes, but they have become prevalent marketing terms as well. This tends to blur the difference between the two, which is understandably confusing!

Biodegradation is a larger natural process that can happen in a number of ways, including composting. Composting is very specific process that happens only in situations with the right microorganisms and environmental conditions – and it creates humus, water, and heat. Other biodegradation processes do not make humus, which is an important part of soils.

Other things "biodegrade" in different ways, such as in water, with sunlight, heat, or even chemicals, but compostable products breakdown (or biodegrade) into compost through the composting process only.

Our products are certified compostable by a third-party organization called BPI and they meet the strict ASTM composting standards for each material type. That's why our products are labeled "compostable" and not "biodegradable". In the US, the Federal Trade Commission publishes a "Green Guide" that outlines the rules for environmental marketing claims. It is our go-to guide to avoid greenwashing and the reason we do not label our items as 'biodegradable". Unfortunately the term 'biodegradable' has no strict legal definition, so look for the words "BPI Certified" to ensure your compostable item meets the best standards for compostability.

Are your products recyclable? In short, probably not. Here's why: We have 2 lines of products; our GreenStripe® items that are made with renewable resources and our BlueStripe™ items that are made with recycled content materials. Not all of these materials can be recycled most places in the US.

Most of our GreenStripe® items are compostable. So when you are done with these renewable GreenStripe® items, like PLA (corn plastic) products, they can be disposed of in a commercial compost facility instead of the landfill. Here they are retuned to the soil as compost.

Our BlueStripe™ items are made from post-consumer recycled PET plastic, polystyrene or fiber, so we are excited to give a second (or third) life to these materials. Unfortunately, it can be hard for some recycling facilities to capture these items – instead, their environmental benefit lies in their front end materials. For these items, please dispose of them responsibly and only recycle them if they are accepted.

There are some regions where #1 PET recycling has expanded and you can put our BlueStripe™ PET items in the recycling bin. It's not everywhere yet, but hopefully one day soon. We encourage you to check with your local municipality or materials recovered facility (MRF for short) to see if they are accepted and if not, to learn when they will be.

Note: It can be tricky to tell the difference between a clear PLA corn cup and a nearly identical cup made from petroleum-derived plastic like PET or even recycled PET. Check out the resin identification number on the bottom of the cup – PLA cups are labeled with #7 and PET cups are #1.

Recycling facilities can have problems with PLA items, so it is important to separate compostables from recyclables into "clean" waste streams. Because PLA and PET mix about as well as oil and water, recyclers consider PLA a contaminant and compost facilities have a hard time cleaning it out of the compost.

Which material is better for the environment – PLA corn plastic or recycled PET plastic? The answer is: it depends! Here at EcoProducts, we look at our products from a life cycle perspective. Our cups have a beginning, middle and end of life. For our cold cups, some of them have great beginning of life attributes, while the others offer great end of life benefits. However, a key piece of the environmental success of our products depends on you. Simply choosing Eco-Products over conventional products helps drive markets, keep good companies like us in business and show the industry where consumers are motivated. If that is all you can do right now, that is a great start! Some of you can do more by composting or even recycling (where accepted) some of our products. The best environmental solution is the one that works with you.

Eco-Products FAQs

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