The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Compostable plastic is garbage

By Saahil Desai

06 Jul 2023 · 6 min read

informed Summary

  1. Compostable packaging is becoming increasingly popular in the food industry, with 7% of all food-service packaging being compostable by 2021.

In 2023, the options for a build-your-own fast-casual lunch can include wild Alaskan salmon, harissa honey chicken, cauliflower shawarma, seasonal roasted zucchini, preserved lemon vinaigrette, za’atar bread crumbs, creamy vegan feta, and skhug. But whatever you choose, it will all inevitably be served in a compostable bowl. As an office worker blessed (and cursed) with endless overpriced meal options, I have shoveled way too much random food into my mouth from a compostable vessel, using a compostable utensil.

The forks, in particular, are not prone to subtlety: Some are embossed with the word <span>COMPOSTABLE</span>; others are green, in case anyone forgets they are “green.” But the compostable-packaging takeover has been tough to miss. Perhaps you have gotten leftovers in a compostable container, stuffed groceries into a compostable produce bag, or sipped coffee out of a compostable straw. Compostable packaging “is growing, and growing a lot,” David Henkes, a food-industry analyst at Technomic, told me. By 2021, 7 percent of all food-service packaging was compostable, Henkes said; its share has almost certainly grown since then, especially in major cities. Among the companies that now use it: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Cava, Sweetgreen, Panera Bread, Taco Bell, and Frito-Lay.

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