Yes? No? Maybe?
The answer, unfortunately, is complicated. Bioplastic’s central attraction is that it is derived from a renewable resource, not that it’s necessarily any easier to breakdown. So answering whether you can recycle the material all depends on what you mean by “recycle,” or how long you think recycling will take. Earth911.com just ran an ultra-helpful guide to bioplastic recycling. Here’s the gist, and for more background, visit the links at the end of the article.
Can you throw it in with other plastic and recycling and expect it to get recirculated? Probably not, at least, not in Columbia. Our city recycling facility can only manage #1 (polyethylene terephthalate) and #2 (high density polyethelyne) plastics. Anything else would contaminate it. But wait! Don’t throw that cup out; there are other options.
Can you compost bioplastic? Again, it’s complicated. Since bioplastics are derived from biological matter, technically it will decompose. However, many “compostable” materials will only break down in a commercial facility. Unfortunately, people may interpret the label as “throw this out the window on the highway and it will become soil.” You’ll definitely need to do more than throw packaging on the ground and expect it to disintegrate.
- Bioplastic Wikipedia page – a good start for plastic types and environmental impact
- “The Promise and Pitfalls of Bioplastic” – May 2010 Time article
- “Bioplastics not so green” – Discovery News article on the manufacturing process
- Compostable Plastics on World Centric company – offers an overview and estimated composting times for their various products
- “Bioplastics Become Material” on Greenbiz.com – an outlook for what’s coming up in bioplastic materials and products (coconuts, mushrooms, cashews?)
- “How to Home Compost” – a guide from Sun Chips on how to compost their now famous (or infamous) crinkly bags.