A slow and predictable breakdown

It took over 100 weeks for a compostable takeout cup to breakdown in a worm farm. So what’s the environmental benefit?

In April 2017, the science-slash-coffee blog Bean Thinking started an experiment to monitor the breakdown of a compostable take-out coffee cup. For over two years, a photo was taken weekly to observe its decomposition. Finally last week, there was no longer any trace…

As well as demonstrating stellar dedication, this exercise highlights the lingering questions about the environmentally-friendliness of compostable packaging as well as the ongoing consumer confusion about packaging’s compostable label. Even items carrying the EN standard require industrial composting facilities which carefully control the temperature and bacteria to rapidly breakdown items.

It’s a further example how choosing the right cup to lower one’s environment impacts is often shrouded in good-intentions and ambiguity. Our recent article on the carbon footprint of various coffee explains how choosing to drink in is by far the best option, but that there is relatively little difference between various takeout options, including reusable and single-use cups.

You can read more about the compostable experiment on the Bean Thinking blog.

Available until 9 January 2021

Updated on 6 August 2020

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