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  • Writer's pictureEd Ehlers

Glass, Plastic, or Aluminum: what to bring?

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Are you looking to make your picnic or barbeque a little eco-friendlier? Consider these thoughts around “green” products.

1) Watch out for “green-washing” which is making not-so-eco-friendly products look more sustainable than they in fact are. Look out for nebulous, less quantifiable words like eco-friendly, earth friendly, oxo-degradable, or biodegradable. Watch out for packaging and bags that are green in color. Many people associate the color green with being eco-friendly. Be cautious when the focus is on recyclable packaging; it is potentially to distract from the non-recyclable items themselves.

2) Understand the certifications:

BAD: ATSM 6954: US Standard, made with oil (EPI), will biodegrade, will leave microplastics

LESS BAD: ATSM 6400: US Standard, could be made with oil (PBAT), industrial compostable, no microplastics

LESS BAD: EN13432 (Seedling): European Standard, could be made with oil (PBAT), industrial compostable, no microplastics

BETTER: “OK compost HOME” which is the basis for several standards (Australia: AS 5810, France: NF T 51800, Europe: EN 17427), likely not made with oil (PBAT), home compostable, no microplastics

Look for at least the “OK compost HOME” certification but read the description for wording such as “no plastic, no fossil fuels, 100% vegetable product.” If the product claims it is Earth-friendly (obscure term), 100% biodegradable (degrades to microplastics) and meets ATSM 6954 (worst certification), it is not your best choice for the environment.

3) Know how the products are packaged. Many manufactures use plastic and excess packaging. Look for 100% plastic free packaging.

4) Figure out where they are manufactured. The burning of fossil fuels for shipping and the working conditions under which they are produced may offset the benefit of the items.

Some category specific thoughts.

Flatware and Plates

Best - Use reusable “real” items

Good – Bio-based, compostable products – palm leaf, bamboo, wood – search Amazon: bamboo palm leaf wood plates and utensils

OK - “OK compost Home” plastic utensils – search Amazon: plant based compostable plates and utensils

Another option - Forego the flatware and plates. Serve up finger foods like sandwiches, nuts, and fruit.


Cups and drinkware

Best - ask your guests to bring their own reusable drinkware - BYOC (bring your own cup)

Good – “OK compost Home” plant based plastic cups – search Amazon: plant based plastic cups

OK – Recyclable aluminum – search Amazon: recyclable aluminum cups

Another option: If you must use plastic, use #6 rigid polystyrene cups. Solo cup takes back and recycles all brands of #6 PS.


Best – Skip them all together

Good – Bamboo, silicone, glass, or metal reusable – search Amazon: reusable straws

OK – Compostable bamboo or paper – search Amazon: compostable straws


Best – Bulk, such as kegs, large beverage coolers, and multi-serving containers with reusable drinkware

Good – Aluminum cans

OK – Glass bottles

Avoid juice boxes and pouches as much as possible; use #1 PET plastic instead (like water bottles.)

Food – this is very broad with a lot to consider. Let’s focus on some useful resource recovery tips.

Snacks – pre-packaged, individual servings are incredibly wasteful as the packaging is not recyclable.

Best - buy in bulk and use a reusable serving utensil to distribute

Good - make individual servings ahead of time and use paper snack & sandwich bags

OK – use Ziploc bags; they are recyclable as plastic film if they are not coated in sauces and icing

Avoid cling wrap which is not recyclable or reusable.

Wraps & Covers – there are so many options it is hard to do “best-good-ok” ranking. So here are a few options.

Unbleached and Uncoated Parchment Paper

Bee’s Wrap - Reusable, biodegradable, and compostable

Aluminum Foil

Silicon bags and covers

Mesh nets and covers

Search Amazon - ecofriendly food covering

Avoid cling wrap which is not recyclable or reusable. Also, if any of the above are coated in sauces, grease, icing, etc., they are not candidates for resource recovery but maybe compostable.

Odds & Ends

Table covers

Best – Cloth or fabric

Good – Compostable plastic or paper (a roll of brown Kraft paper is inexpensive)

OK – Low density polyethylene plastic covers

Avoid multi-material products like plastic lined paper - search Amazon: compostable table covers

Napkins & towels

Best – Cloth or fabric

Good – Bamboo or sugarcane

OK – Paper

Avoid colored or dyed paper napkins - search Amazon: compostable towels; compostable napkins

Use reusable bags for shopping, carrying items to the event, and brining leftovers home.

With a few conscious choices, you can significantly reduce the amount of material you add to the already overfull landfills. If you have any questions, please contact us at

The Resource Recovery Project is pioneering true, single-stream, curbside resource recovery. We challenge the idea that recycling is not easy, cheap, efficient, or effective - it can be! We collect most resources (except liquids, organics & food, and medical waste) as long as they are clean & dry. We find the highest and best use for collected resources - reuse, repurpose, rehome, and recycle.

If you are in the greater Clifton, VA area, we invite you to make the most of your recycling efforts and join The Resource Recovery Project (RRP). Find us on Facebook: Resource Recovery Project

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Cover photo by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash

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