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[GreenYes] Re: Reusable Cups

Title: [GreenYes] Re: Reusable Cups


People often confuse the issues of items being biodegradable and items
being made from renewable resources.  Many biodegradable items are at
least partly made using renewable resources, but not always.
Similarly items can be made with renewable resources but not be

In the case of a biodegradable cup, the fact that it is biodegradable
provides no benefit and might cause harm when disposed in a landfill,
as compared to a non-biodegradable cup.  Some parts of landfills can
be hot and moist enough for biodegradable cups to degrade, in which
case they will degrade mainly into methane, carbon dioxide, and
water.  Two of these are greenhouse gases that will harm the
environment when they escape the landfill.  They will also form acid
intermediates that can leach heavy metals out of other garbage in the
landfill.  In comparison, a non-degradable cup will sit inert in the
landfill, and that is a good thing compared to biodegradation in the

However, there is a possibility that the cup in question was also made
with renewable resources.  The jury is still out as to whether some of
the main forms of cups made partly from renewable resources use less
fossil fuel than do other cups.  Try, the organic components going
into the cup are from renewable resources, but a considerable amount
of energy in the form of electricity and steam can also be used in
making these biodegradable cups.

Note also that many of the biodegradable cups can only biodegrade
under conditions found in commercial composting operations (high
temperatures and humidity in the compost pile for extended periods of
time, and also they do not produce and compost when they degrade.
Instead, they compost entirely into carbon dioxide and water, and
possibly also methane if there is little or no oxygen near them in the
compost pile.

Peter Spendelow
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

On Jun 16, 12:26 pm, dsa...@no.address wrote:
> Does anyone have any thoughts on sending biodegradable cups to the landfill?
> We have establishments who tout offering biodegradable cups, but who do not
> participate in a compost program or have any control where their customers
> dispose of the cups. I would think the methane resulting from these
> materials in the landfill would be more damaging than burying
> non-biodegradable materials.
> I’d hate to think that people opted for a biodegradable cup over a
> refillable because they thought they were better than plastic.
> Dennis Sauer

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