Calgary

Restaurant 'disheartened' compostable containers end up in the dump

While kitchen scraps and yard waste are OK for the city’s composting facility, some food containers don't make the cut.

Calgary composting facility can't take plant-based plastics yet

Cluck N Cleaver co-owner Francine Gomes shows off her selection of compostable containers. (Helen Pike/CBC)

While kitchen scraps and yard waste are OK for the city's composting facility, some food containers aren't making the cut.

Francine Gomes, Cluck N Cleaver co-owner, said they wanted to get ahead of the city's facility. So they invested in a line of fully compostable containers in 2016 — two years before the city's residential program hit green carts.

But some of the items her restaurant chose turned out to be expensive trash. 

Residents who take home containers with plant-based plastics can't chuck them in the Calgary's green bins, or in recycling ones — they end up in the landfill. 

Gomes didn't know that would happen when her restaurant first chose the green route.

"It was a little disheartening at first, because our end goal was for it to end up in the right place," Gomes said. "What we're doing is still better, and the city will catch up eventually, fingers crossed." 

It might look like plastic, but this container is a plant-based material designed to break down as compost. (Helen Pike/CBC)

These plastics take too long to break down for the city's facility. Kitchen and yard waste takes 60 days to turn into the nutrient-dense dirt fit for a garden.

And Gomes said, from what she understands, the plant-based plastics don't do well in the landfill either — they require the right conditions to break down. 

The city is aware of the gap, and Laura Hamilton, waste diversion specialist with the city, said she understands restaurants want to go the way of compostable containers.

There's a lot to look into.- Laura Hamilton

But Hamilton said when the composting facility launched, the focus was on kitchen scraps, yard waste and educating citizens on how to use their green bins. 

"A lot of these compostable products are designed and tested in a lab to break down, and over 90 days," Hamilton said. "We're looking at testing some of these products that are coming on the market. And there's more and more of them every day, so there's a lot to look into." 

She said the city doesn't have a specific timeline for results, but it will start testing this summer. 

'We want to be careful'

Currently, there are a number of things you might get at a fast food place or restaurant that can be composted.

The list is long, but anything that looks like cardboard can go in the green bin — along with Subway sandwich wrappers, and the fry and burger boxes you might find at McDonald's.

"We want to be very careful with what we're accepting in the program so we can preserve the high quality of our compost," Hamilton said. 

Meanwhile, Cluck N Cleaver's Gomes said anyone who takes home containers is welcome to come back and use her bins — her private hauler can process those compostable containers.

About the Author

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.

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