Even though some snack bags are now biodegradable, they shouldn't be placed into the yard-waste bins due to Cheyenne's heavy winds.
CHEYENNE -- After you're done crunching on Sun Chips, is it OK to toss the bag into the city-issued yard-waste bin? After all, its new bag is designed to quickly break down if placed in a "large, professionally managed" composting facility, according to the nonprofit Biodegradable Products Institute.
That describes the municipal composting facility. But the city's sanitation director doesn't want them. Dennis Pino said in our wind-swept city, the bags would end up forming an ugly pile of trash along the fence of the Windmill Avenue facility, Pino said. Or they would blow across the road to the golf course.
"For us, right now, (compostable plastics) are not acceptable," Pino said. And that goes for other compostable products, such as pen casings, plastic cups and paper plates that are out on the market. With no way for crews to quickly differentiate these from regular trash, they will be regarded as trash. And when crews find trash in the yard waste bins, the homeowner could get slapped with a fee.
For the time being, those who want to use plastic that can be turned into compost will have to put them to work in their own backyards. Normally, we think of these petroleum-based plastic products as staying intact in the landfill decades after we're gone. But more disposable products that are designed to break down in a compost pile at the same rate as grass clippings and leaves are starting to hit the shelves.
The local King Soopers grocery store sells a line of plastic beverage cups made from corn, and paper plates made from sugar-cane fiber. These can be composted when their short, useful lives are spent. Also, Frito Lay recently launched a massive campaign that shows the empty chips bags dissolving in the dirt.
The new Sun Chips bag is a highly engineered product, said Steven Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute. It's made from a corn feedstock that is further processed into a polymer -- something that can keep the chips crispy until we're ready to eat them. Then the microbes in the compost pile eat the carbon-based bag, which gives off carbon dioxide.
However, if this chip bag ends up in the landfill, that's worse for the environment, Mojo said. This is an anaerobic breakdown, meaning it will release methane instead of carbon dioxide, which adds to our greenhouse gas troubles. In the past, Pino has said Cheyenne has a composting facility to be proud of and is one of the largest in the region.
That's owing to the city's mandatory yard-waste policy. Because the landfill was getting full, the city barred leaves, branches and grass clippings from going into the regular trash stream. The city collects yard waste from separate bins and hauls the loads to the composting facility off Windmill Road.
Right now, there's no system in place to accept these new plastics. In fact, it's a situation that is ripe for contamination. For one thing, unless all plastic products on the market could be composted there could be a lot of mix-ups. In addition to the wind problems, Pino confirmed that, yes, the city would have to rely on residents being informed and diligent enough to keep the wrong kind of trash out of the yard-waste bin.
The Biodegradable Products Institute does offer guidance to consumers. If a company claims that the product can be composted, consumers should look for the BPI logo on the label, Mojo said. That means it was laboratory tested by a third party and meets ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) standards.
But at the Cheyenne facility, if there were cups, plates and chip bags allowed in the mix, it would require more sorting, which would add to the labor costs.
"I hate to say it, but when it costs the city money, we have to pass it on," Pino said. "I don't want to be charging any more than I have to right now."