SWRC Blog: Disposability and Compostability

SWRC Blog: Disposability and Compostability

 A friend recently pointed out Beantown Bedding, a Boston company that has sourced sheets made with an eco-friendly fibre which are designed to be used until they are dirty and then composted or thrown away. Their benefits are supposed to be that they save a bunch of work and a bunch of water because you don’t wash them and then, since they’re compostable, you can toss them guilt-free. Oy! This is like saying it’s okay to waste food if you have a compost bin. It’s better, certainly, that you can put wasted food into a compost rather than a landfill, but much more effective if you can find ways to NOT WASTE the food in the first place!

Back to the sheets. It bears repeating that there is NO environmental benefit to putting compostable items into landfills. People think these products break down and are somehow less harmful (in fact the Beantown Bedding website assures people that their sheets ‘degrade readily’ in landfills).  Landfills, by design, are oxygen-free environments. Organic materials that break down without oxygen produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, rather than the milder carbon dioxide produced from composting systems. Please pass on the message that you are doing the world no favours by tossing compostable things in the garbage.

So, compostable sheets need to make their way into a commercial composting system. A backyard compost won’t get hot enough to really break them down, and not every community has a commercial compost option. Even if they do, I have a problem visualising how well sheet-shaped things would behave in a compost facility – I’m thinking they would likely get tangled in equipment that was designed to handle stuff that normally comes in small chunks. This means that many potential bedding customers are out of luck when it comes to the guilt free part of these disposable sheets.

And then there's the water. So if you don't have to wash the sheets, you save the water and energy of laundry, but how much water and energy does it take to make a new set of sheets every time? We need to look at the big picture.

I do like the idea of the eco-friendly fibre. The sheets are made from TENCEL, which uses sustainable wood pulp and a closed-loop production process to create a fabric similar to cotton, but with fewer environmental impacts. TENCEL can be made into clothing, denim, active wear, and yes, sheets and towels – the non-disposable kind. I’m definitely up for durable, washable sheets made from eco-friendly fabric (and still compostable at the end of their long life). That to me makes sense. Why not have the cake and eat it too? (And eat it all … no wasted food, or sheets).