Tempe and ASU will spearhead a project to test biodegradable service ware products

The Tempe City Council voted Feb. 9 for ASU to begin a pilot program that will test composting ability of bioplastic service ware

ASU and the City of Tempe will collaborate on a sustainability project to test the ability of plant-based service ware to compost, after the Tempe City Council approved the plan Feb. 9.

The pilot project will test bioplastic service ware made by NatureWorks, LLC in an in-vessel composter, provided by DTEnvironmental, a waste disposing systems manufacturer. The bioplastic will be combined with pre-consumer food waste to test the ability of the products to compost. 

The test being designed by an ASU faculty member, according to documents from the City of Tempe.

Steven Pietrzykowsky, the Solid Waste Services manager for the City of Tempe, said the university approached the city for the project, which they immediately grabbed onto because of the city's belief in sustainability.

"We are a progressive city when it comes to sustainability," Pietrzykowsky said. “We thought this was an opportunity to explore something that may move the needle in the future, when it comes to diversion.”

If the project is successful, the technology could give the city new food recycling options to residents, as well as for special events held by the city. 

Pietrzykowsky said he's hoping the project will bring compost to the city's mainstream, public areas.

"It's actually, from what I know ... the first food recycling program in the Phoenix metro in the public sector," he said. "So we're the first city that's doing anything with food waste right now, to my knowledge."

Pietrzykowsky says that ASU is expected to provide over 750 lbs. of uneaten food material from kitchens, or pre-consumer-waste, from the Tempe campus for the process.

"We need it right out of the kitchen, so we know that it's clean material," Pietrzykowsky said. 

Corey Hawkey, a University Sustainability Practices program manager at ASU, said NatureWorks reached out to ASU for a research project to see if the compostable plastics they manufacture would compost in an in-vessel compost machine.

"What we’re trying to do here is answer that critical question: Can we have bio-based plastics that break down and actually don’t hinder the quality of the soil when it is done composting?," he said.

While some of the waste can be recycled, such as 20-ounce bottles, plastic cups and cardboard boxes, Hawkey said the project would help make it easier for people to throw away the proper material in the recycling and composting bins.

“You don’t go to a concert to recycle in compost," he said. “So if you are able to introduce projects into that system that help people in their decisions at the recovery bin stations, you can have much higher success rates."

Hawkey said this can help lead to more sustainable outcomes from the recycled and composted products.

“How crazy would that be? If you could go to Tempe Town Lake, go to a big concert and you don’t eat all your hot dog ... you compost it," he said. “Next thing you know it’s out here, growing palm trees.”

Hawkey said ASU wants to know if compostable plastics can break down in a zero waste process as part of ASU's Zero Waste goals.

“This kind of project is in a lot of ways, what ASU is all about,” Hawkey said. “We are faced with the monumental challenge of moving one of the largest universities in the world toward zero waste. We’re trying to embed ourselves in the community and have global impact."

Robin Arredondo-Savage, vice mayor of Tempe, who voted for the measure, said the sustainable project was a step in the right direction.

"It’s a great opportunity for us, and we’re very fortunate to have Arizona State University right here in our back yard," Arredondo-Savage said. “It passed six to zero, so we are all really confident.”

Reach the reporter at Marinodavidjr@gmail.com or follow @Marinodavidjr on Twitter.

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