An important challenge to be addressed in the intersection of recycling/composting is the use of PLA bioplastic. While they are actually compostable, it takes much longer for these cups to compost than other compostable matter (up to 50 years!). It also looks identical to a standard plastic cup, so it is very difficult to separate the two, which is necessary for effective recycling. Therefore recyclers don’t take it, and in Portland, municipal composters don’t either. We see the use of bioplastic as greenwashing, as the advertising used for these ‘bioware’ cups showcase that they are compostable and therefore more friendly to the environment than the conventional plastic disposable cup.
We experimented with recycling these PLA bioplastic cups by shredding it in a modified paper shredder and melting it in a vented oven. It melts at a low temperature and self-levels, which makes it a great material to work with using standard off-the-shelf (dedicated) equipment. After melting the bioware into flat sheets, we then lasercut the sheets to create custom objects, which we passed out during THC events.
We shared this process to raise awareness about the greenwashing effect caused by bioware cups. Participants were invited to wash, dry, shred, and collect completed tokens made from the recycled bioware PLA cups.