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Can the Power of Information Make People Change?

If you knew:

1. There are not enough commercial composting facilities in the US to process all the “biodegradable utensils” that are thrown away.

2. Even if utensils make it to a composting facility, 40 percent of them don’t completely degenerate.

3. Utensils take over 100 years to decompose.

Would you alter your behavior by bringing your own utensils to dining facilities?

Here’s what members of Stanford University’s community had to say:

Maybe a Stanford student like Alexandria Hicks-Mason, who suggested altering the utensils, not the people, will invent the next generation of truly biodegradable utensils.

Biodegradable – Fact or Fiction

Click here for the facts about biodegradable utensils.

What do Stanford Diners Know?

We set out to find the answer to a very simple question: What do Stanford diners know about those handy utensils provided at every dining location? Do they think about the impact using disposable utensils has on the environment? About recycling?

We asked diners at Olive’s and at Arbuckle if they’ve thought about what happens to their utensils after they throw them away. And if they’ve ever considered bringing their own utensils.

Here’s what we found:

Stanford is REALLY serious about Compostable utensils!

Union Square, The Axe & Palm and Russo Cafe became billed as “waste-free” last week; through the combined efforts of   Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) and Stanford Hospitality and Auxiliaries, the eateries agreed to use only compostable or recyclable materials and were equipped with bins to dispose of these items.

Meanwhile, a new course on campus sustainability has students analyzing the impact of waste at places like Tresidder’s Union Square, where hundreds of students eat daily.

Sounds like gr8 news! Lets hope they are actually looking at “compostable” alternatives that don’t end up in landfills. Read more about it on the Standord Daily’s Waste not Want not article.

Compostable? Not so fast

This article (Compostable? Not so fast) from the Stanford Daily shows what a menace these tonnes of disposable utensils have become. It shows that although the utensils are promoted as  “biodegradable” in a real world setup not everything “disintegrates” completely.

Some key highlights

Julie Muir, the manager of Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc. (PSSI), which handles Stanford’s waste, agrees wholeheartedly with the University’s zero-waste goal, but wonders if compostable dishware is the right way to achieve it. She said she wonders whether compostable serviceware creates more problems than it solves.

ASSU Green Store Manager Susan Choi ‘12 also said the store has been “wary” of offering compostable products.

It highlights 2 key issues

1) It is difficult to sort “biodegradable” utensils from plastic ones cos they both look very very similar: specially if compostable products are used without eacy access to a seperate bin to throw away compostable stuff then they end up with other trash and sorting becomes a nightmare.

2)  Despite their agricultural origins, some compostable cutlery can withstand temperatures of up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This durability can make compostables difficult to degrade. World Centric, a Palo Alto based biodegradable cutlery supplier  estimates that it may take six months in a commercial facility for these products to be processed, and up to two years in a backyard pile. Some composting facilities, like the Sonoma Compost Company only process the waste for 10 to 14 weeks.

The article quotes Julie Muir from Peninsula Sanitary Service Inc. who says that  even at the Newby Island composting facility, that processes most of Stanford’s waste, although a batch of waste is allowed to decompose for six months,  some utensils might remain.