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As part of the effort to eliminate the use of virgin fiber, harmful chemicals and reduce waste, it is critical to select disposable products that are either made from recycled materials, or are biobased, avoiding the use of petroleum based plastics, wherever possible.


Post-consumer content recycled products reduce the demand for extracting natural resources from the environment. For example, every ton of 100% post-consumer recycled paper saves: 12 trees, 1,087 pounds of solid waste, 1,560 kilowatts of energy, 1,196 gallons of water, 1,976 pounds of greenhouse gases, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 390 gallons of oil. Products made from recycled content build a market for recycling paper and plastic, conserve natural resources and landfill space, and prevent pollution. Ask your distributors about the recycled and post-consumer content of their napkins, to-go containers, cutlery, pizza boxes, trash liners and more.


Bleaching virgin wood pulp and recycled paper with chlorine releases highly toxic substances into the environment. The most dangerous of these includes a family of 75 different chemicals known as dioxins, and thousands of other chemicals called organochlorines. The U.S. EPA Dioxin Reassessment has found that dioxins are carcinogens 300,000 times more potent than DDT (the use of which was banned in the U.S. in 1972). Research has conclusively linked dioxins to cancer, reproductive disorders and suspects these chemicals as being linked to nine other human health hazards.


Most plastic is made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource, whose use contributes to global warming. Petroleum products also take a very long time to degrade, and release harmful pollutants as they decompose.  Biobased and compostable products, on the other hand, decompose in under 90 days under commercial composting conditions, and do not release harmful pollutants into the environment as they decompose. Look for bio-based compostable products that are made from corn, sugarcane, bulrush, bamboo and other natural materials. Be sure to read labels carefully because green-washing is still prevalent with some so-called “biodegradable” plastics. Especially when it comes to straws and bags, we see many products labeled as “biodegradable” when they are actually just plastic products with an additive. When in doubt, check the Biodegradable Products Institute ( or the USDA’s Biopreferred Program (


Top 5 Steps a Food Service Facility Can Take to Increase Use of Low Impact Disposables

  1. Use reusable tableware and napkins for dine-in customers.

  2. Replace paper towels with reusable hand towels in the restrooms.

  3. Purchase disposables made from recycled materials. The higher the post consumer recycled content, the better

  4. If products made from recycled materials are not an option, look for products that are certified compostable and 100% biobased.

  5. Revise your menu specs so they are in-line with 100% recycled paper colors, sizes and weights. This typically means that your menus will need to be white or natural in color and no heavier than cardstock.


  1. Napkins

Napkins should be 100% recycled, contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer content, and be processed chlorine-free.  There are quite a few paper napkins with as much as 90% post-consumer content readily available.


  1. Towels

Towels should be 100% recycled, contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer content, and be processed chlorine-free.  You can find paper towels, especially roll towels, with as much as 90% post-consumer content.


  1. Toilet Paper

Toilet paper should be 100% recycled, contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer content, and be processed chlorine-free.


  1. Office Paper

Office paper should be 100% post-consumer recycled content, and processed chlorine-free.


  1. Menu Paper

Ideally, menu paper should be 100% post-consumer recycled content, and processed chlorine-free, but many sizes and colors are only available with 30% post-consumer recycled content.


  1. Receipt Paper

One-ply receipt paper should be 100% recycled with a minimum of 40% post-consumer content.  Two-ply receipt paper should be 60% recycled with a minimum of 30% post-consumer content.


  1. Bags

Paper bags should be unbleached, kraft bags with 100% recycled with a minimum of 40% post consumer material. These products are naturally biodegradable and most customers can recycle paper bags in their homes and offices.


Plastic bags should contain 10% post-consumer petroleum based plastic material or made from 100% compostable corn resin. Refer to the Biodegradable Products Institute ( for a complete list of certified compostable products


  1. Hot Cups

Look for paper hot cups that contain post consumer recycled content. There are a few product lines with 10-25% recycled content. It may be easier to find biobased hot cups, which are made from virgin paper, but are lined with PLA (corn-based resin) in place of petroleum, making it fully compostable.


  1.  Cup Carriers & Cup Sleeves

Most brown, unbleached cup carriers and sleeves contain some level of recycled content and some are made from up to 100% post consumer recycled content.


  1. To-go Containers

The major options for low-impact to-go containers are recycled paper, recycled plastic, PLA (corn) and molded fibers such as Bagasse (sugar cane) and bulrush.


At this time, containers made from recycled paper and plastic are preferred over compostable containers because the vast majority of consumers across the country don’t have access to commercial compost facilities.


PLA products are made primarily from corn and they  require 50% less fossil fuel based energy to produce than traditional plastics.  They are compostable and look like plastic. They should not be used for hot foods.


Bagasse products are made from sugar cane fiber waste that is left over after juice extraction.  Since sugar cane waste is normally burned, its use in biodegradable disposables reduces local air pollution in sugar cane producing countries. They are compostable, suitable for hot and cold foods, and have an opaque appearance.


  1. Cold Cups

The best option is a cold cup made from recycled plastic but there are only a few product lines within this category. The next best option is PLA cold cups or paper cold cups with a PLA lining. It’s worth mentioning that Coca-Cola and Pepsi both offer these biobased, compostable products to food service facilities, you just need to ask.



  1.  Cutlery

There are three primary options for cutlery: recycled plastic, PLA or CPLA, and plant starch materials (PSM). The recycled plastic and CPLA options have the highest heat tolerance. PSM cutlery is made from a blend of plant starch materials and plastic, and therefore not compostable.


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