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Compostable Plastics for Liquor Bottles Pros and Cons

HeaderAn article in PlasticsToday is called "Bacardi’s Foray into Sustainable Packaging Has Some Challenges."

It talks about compostable plastics that the company has announced they'll be switching to within a few years. While probably not the exact type of compostable plastic that compostable take-out food containers are made of, they're related, or rather they could have related problems. 

Recyclable plastic can go into recycling bins. 

Compostable plastic can be composted in gardens, or put into industrial/curbside compost bins only in some cities.

I checked with my city, San Francisco, and their website says that "Products clearly labeled “Compostable”" can go into the bins. I think this is relatively rare from what I've heard of other cities. 

Note that items marked "biodegradable" do Not go into compost bins, at least not in San Francisco. 

So it sounds as if forthcoming bioplastic bottles could suffer from the same problem if they're not accepted by compost companies. 

The article states: 

PHAs and other compostable plastics like PLA are touted for their appealing end-of-life attributes but most often find their way into landfills, where they take just as long as other plastics to break down. Most companies kick out ‘industrially compostable’ plastics because they do not break down as quickly as organic matter.

Croskey added, however, that “ideally, our materials would be disposed of in home compost bins, where they can quickly break down, or be disposed of with food waste. In the event they are littered, they will break down, unlike fossil fuel–based products.”

The article concludes basically "if it ain't broke don't fix it" but the website is the "community for plastics professionals" so they probably have a vested interest in the failure of plastic alternatives. 

We know on the other hand that most plastics are not recycled, so from a waste standpoint (as opposed to raw materials in creation standpoint), maybe there's not that big of a difference?

As usual, the issues with sustainability in liquor bottle packaging are complicated and include:

  • impact of bottle raw material creation of bottles (aluminum mining seems bad, for example)
  • the weight of those bottles for shipping (glass is heavy)
  • recyclability or composability of used bottles (aluminum is very easily recycled, most others are downcycled)
  • practicality of that recycling and composting - whether it actually happens regardless of if the bottle is technically recyclable
  • the hopeful future of reusability 

Read more about Glass vs Aluminum vs Plastic here