You, the members, have told us you want to see less plastic in the store and we heard you! The Kootenay Co-op now provides take-out cutlery made of compressed birch pulp instead of disposable plastic. There are many ways to reduce your plastic consumption and this is another!
Each piece of birch cutlery will cost $0.10 each ($0.30 for fork, spoon, and knife).
Why are we phasing out plastic cutlery?
- Our recycling system in BC does not accept plastic cutlery (even though it’s made of recyclable material).
- Non-recyclable plastic is bad for the environment.
- Plastic is non-biodegradable. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but doesn’t easily break down into its chemical components. .
- Birch trees are quick to reach harvest maturity (they grow fast!) and can readily colonize open terrain or woodland systems (birch is monoecious meaning it doesn’t need pollination to expand its population), making it ultra-renewable!
- Birch is a native plant and already grows abundantly. Additionally, it has been largely underutilized by the pulp and paper industry (mainly because of high sugar content).
- Birch cutlery will biodegrade easily with no lingering residue or side effects.
- Why not bio-plastics? “Bio-degradable” plastics are often made from plant derivatives, but they’re not very bio-degradable. In order to break down, they have very specific heat and moisture requirements, usually only available in commercial composting facilities. Our region does not yet have commercial composting, so “compostable” bio-plastic cutlery simply isn’t compostable.
Our region does not yet have commercial composting, so “compostable” bio-plastic cutlery simply isn’t compostable.
- Growing the plants to turn into single-use bio-plastics takes valuable agricultural land away from producing food, and producers often use GMO corn for plant material.
- Why not bamboo? The bamboo cutlery we tried was quite splintery and not pleasant to eat from.
- Why charge for the cutlery? The cost of the cutlery allows us to recover the cost as well as to create of an incentive to choose less disposable cutlery. Members can eat in the store, bring their own cutlery, or bring food home to eat. The birch cutlery can be used several times and composts readily, but it is still better for the planet to use metal cutlery that can be washed and reused many thousands of times.
What about other plastic in the store?
We feel comfortable offering plastic packaging for our in-house food because the plastic containers in our store are accepted in the Recycle BC recycling program. In BC, manufacturers and distributors of plastic packaging pay into a fund to ensure that plastics are recycled. Currently, even our plastic bulk bags, foil-lined chip bags, and crinkly cellophane bags are eligible to be recycled at the RDCK recycling depot. We don’t use plastics with BPA, but we still don’t recommend that you expose your food to hot plastic by reheating or storing hot food in plastic containers.
What can I do?
Switching from plastic to birch take-out cutlery is a big step forward, but it’s not a perfect solution. It still involves putting a lot of resources into something that will be used only a few times at best. To go a step further, you can:
- Eat in our café and use the metal cutlery we have here
- Bring your take-out all the way home or back to work and use your own eating utensils,
- Bring a fork with you! Make or buy a travel utensil kit (consider including fork, knife, spook, chopsticks, and a cloth napkin)
Here among Co-op staff, many of us keep cutlery in our purses, panniers, glove boxes, backpacks or at our desks so that we may be prepared for all our lunchy needs. We are currently sourcing a travel utensil kit that meets our standards, so be on the lookout for that soon!
Thank you for actively participating in your member-owned Co-op by holding us to a high standard. Our staff is fortunate to have member support and encouragement to research and source the best possible solution for this beautiful but messy and complicated world that we live in.