Compost controversy in Corvallis over plant-based plastics - KPTV - FOX 12

Compost controversy in Corvallis over plant-based plastics

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CORVALLIS, OR (KPTV) -

A compost controversy is underway in Corvallis. The town's trash collection company says it will no longer accept plant-based plastic silverware and cups because they aren't breaking down fast enough.

It's a product many businesses use to be eco-friendly, including Oregon State University.

Chris Vitello, with EcNow Tech, created his own plant-based plastic years ago, with the notion that his products would be compostable. His cups and utensils look nearly identical to the real deal.

"Our focus has always been on quality and ensuring our product is 100 percent plant based," said Vitello.

Vitello said he worked with Oregon State University and local farmers in the area to develop and test all materials to make sure they are safe for the environment.

"We hire students who help us develop future products, they, in turn use the products in the cafeteria," said Vitello.

Vitello tells FOX 12 similar tests were also performed in front of Republic Services, the town's trash and recycling collection company.

"We actually built small compost piles for them and found the products burnt down well within 30 days," Vitello said. "Over the last eight years we've shipped them at least eight to 10 tons of plastic waste per year and it broke down with no issues."

At least, that's what Vitello thought until the summer.

"About a month ago, they sent out a letter to all our customers stating they no longer accept our cups and utensils," said Vitello.

Republic Services claims it was a decision that all came down to business.   

"There may be composters out there that can handle that product, we're just not one of them," said Republic Services Municipal Manager Julie Jackson.

Jackson tells FOX 12 part of the problem is that so many people are now composting, the facility had to shorten its timeline for production due to an increase of material. It's a process they can extend, but at a cost.

"It's very expensive to do that, and typically consumers don't want to bear those costs," Jackson added. 

Jackson said customers were also complaining about finding plastics in their compost. It's unclear if it was Vitello's utensils, or petroleum based plastics.

Regardless, Jackson says her employees can't tell them apart and don't have the time to try. 

"In order to make a really good product that doesn't have plastic forks and cups sticking out of it, we chose to eliminate PLA materials in general," said Jackson.

But, Vitello said it's a problem he can easily fix by adding color to his products.

"The University of Oregon is a customer and it's no surprise they went to bright green utensils. All of our products are clearly labeled and they go to the local composter. That process seems to be working well," said Vitello.

In the meantime, Republic Services is standing by its decision. Though, Vitello is still hopeful that might change.

"As a business, we've now expanded nationwide so we're fine," Vitello added. "My concern is as a member of the community. People want do the right thing with plant based plastics, or recyclable plastics. I think we could collaborate and find solutions that work for everyone."

Oregon State University says it remains committed to sustainability measures and will continue to identify products that can be accepted into composting systems. 

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