Do You Have Bin Confusion?

This morning I grabbed a bagel at a local coffee shop on my way into the office. Once I sat down at my computer, I opened the bag to find this Greenware cup with a few tiny pickles in it. After I finished eating, I looked at the cup and thought, “What bin do I put this in?” We have a 3-bin system where we are meaning we have a bin for landfill, recycling, and compost/organics. The item said “made with plants” on it and I remember always being told these containers were compostable but I just wasn’t sure. It was labeled as plastic #7 with the acronym PLA underneath it.

In search of an answer I turned around and asked my coworker and he said “either compost or recycling, but I’m not sure which.” I went into the next room and asked my boss. She flipped the question on me and I told her that I honestly wasn’t sure anymore. Together we went on our local waste hauler’s website to see what materials they allow for collection in which bins.  Was this compostable? Was it recyclable? What do I do with this container!?

After some quick research, we learned that this is actually landfilled in our city. Our city only collects plastics #1 and #2 for recycling, in addition to metals, glass, and paper. It looked like all others do not go into that bin. The page on what compostable items are allowed in the green bin did not mention that any kind of plastics could be composted. It seemed that this was actually supposed to go to landfill. I felt disappointed because to me, that isn’t how it’s marketed to the public and businesses.

As somebody who works at an environmental non-profit organization and majored in Environmental Studies, shouldn’t I know something like this? Since I don’t know, I can only imagine how confused other people must be when they are faced with waste sorting challenges like this. How do we expect everyone to know what goes where when every city’s rules are different and it’s not a given that these products are composted or recycled the way they are marketed to be.

Now, more than ever, I can see why ReThink Disposable makes a world of sense. Instead of standing in front of the garbage can for 5 minutes and asking everyone around me what bin this should go in, why can’t I just eliminate that altogether? Why can't the restaurant simply make disposables by request or I can muster up the courage to say that I don't need a straw in my drink. If we keep pushing to have these conversations on both sides of the register, I think we could make a huge difference.