Zero waste meals and cornstarch packaging

Filed in Blog by on July 4, 2008 9 Comments
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courgettes and tomatoes a zero waste meal
As our official ‘zero week’ challenge is only two short months away, I’ve declared today a Zero Waste Meals day.

Breakfast was home made yogurt; yep I dusted off my new machine, quietly stepped aside my procrastination while it was still asleep and made yogurt. We had that with fresh raspberries, blackcurrants and apples. Delicious it was too. The yogurt is really thick and creamy and the machine costs me just 0.07p in electricity to run!
How do I know? I have one of those funky kill-a-watt meters.

Lunch will be a kind of stewy-casseroley thing made from new potatoes, tomatoes and courgettes. All seasonal veg bought from our local organic farm shop. I haven’t figured out what we will have with it yet. Cheese is out, because we haven’t yet perfected the art of buying cheese without a plastic wrapper. (Although we believe we have found a solution that doesn’t involve keeping a herd of cows).
Lentils are out because they come in a non recyclable cellophane bag. The other two can have something like sausages from our local butcher but I’ll need to think about me. I could add a tin of chickpeas or black eye beans couldn’t I? Mmmm that would be good, actually.

Now for tea. Well I guess I could fall back on the old favourite of home made bread and soup but I’m trying to come up with more creative things; especially as we have a weeks worth of meals to come up with in a couple of months time.

Maybe I’m just all ‘creatived’ out at the moment. I’m sure I’ll be bursting with ideas nearer the time.

On a loosely related note, I’m in the midst of a conversation with M&S about their cornstach packaging. I’ve heard from one of their Customer advisors that “you can dispose of it [cornstarch packaging] exactly how you like and the result will still be environmentally friendly”.

“If you would like to, you can put the packaging onto a compost heap or send it to landfill, and after seventy two days it will have completely broken down”.

Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Or as Granddad Green, who frequently wins pessimist of the year award, might say, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Many recycling fanatics might jump up and down with joy, take that statement at face value, tear away their guilt and start filling up the landfill with cornstarch packaging.

I’m somewhere in the middle. Excited, but needing to know more, as I’m a little sceptical of such claims. My questions go along the lines of:

1- If this really is the case about cornstarch packaging, why isn’t every manufacturer across the land using it?

2- If it breaks down in 70 days what is the shelf life like. Could it start to disintegrate in the bus on the way home?

3- What’s this stuff actually made from? What does it break down INTO – Is the end product safe?

Watch this space for further updates and have yourselves a wonderful weekend.



About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. Ruth says:

    Yes, it is perfectly true. Cornstarch packaging will compost away to carbon dioxide and water, just like any vegetable, as soon as the bacteria can get a handle on it. This is usually not long after it gets wet.

    However, will your binman take anything that’s not in a distinctly non-biodgradable black plastic sack?

    Why doesn’t everyone use it? Because it’s more expensive, obviously.

  2. Jane says:

    Thanks for the clarification on the corn startch – it’s something that has been nagging away with me for a while…

    Today I discovered just how lucky we are with our recycling when I received a response from our council re what codes they’ll recycle… the gist of it was send us anything that comes with food and we’ll sort it out so that as much as possible is recycled. They only state plastic bottles and bags on their info sheet, but take all of code 1 and 2, and most of the others (not 6 and 7 though! but these aren’t around that much). It certainly reduces our landfill (just need to get them to update their website).

    Having said that, not generating the waste in the first place is always best, so I will try making yogurt still! Even bought the vanilla pods for it today.

  3. I remember getting all excited when I heard about the corn starch. It was like a yippedee doo dah moment. You’ll find this article very interesting Mrs G, as it also covers some of the more controversial elements of diverting food into packaging or energy sources….oooh dilemmas dilemmas.

  4. Dagny says:

    I’m so impressed with your efforts for zero waste in regards to food and life. In the states, there is so much wasteful packaging, not only with foods, but especially with retail store purchases, which often include bag, tissue paper and sticker. My clothes don’t need tissue paper, it’s just a waste. I’d be more impressed with a recycled bag.

    organic apparel

  5. Mr Green says:

    It seems like
    “According to a biodegradability standard that Mojo helped develop, PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin, pit or tumbling barrel. It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen.”


    “Despite PLA’s potential as an environmentally friendly material, it seems clear that a great deal of corn packaging, probably the majority of it, will end up in landfills. And there’s no evidence it will break down there any faster or more thoroughly than PET or any other form of plastic. Glenn Johnston, manager of global regulatory affairs for NatureWorks, says that a PLA container dumped in a landfill will last “as long as a PET bottle.” No one knows for sure how long that is, but estimates range from 100 to 1,000 years.”

    Sadly, maybe not the wonder packaging e were hoping for…
    from The above link.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Dagny,

    It’s great to see you here. Thank you for leaving a comment. It sounds like your company has some great ethics in place regarding packaging. I think more of the smaller companies are becoming aware of this challenge and are reducing the effects of their businesses on the environment.

    Hope to see you again 🙂

    Mrs G x

  7. kesuki says:

    There is 1 advantage of cornstarch in a land fill. although plastic and cornstarch will last 100-1000 years, the cornstarch will break down to mostly harmless CO2 and water.

    Plastic will break down into dangerous cancerous petrochemicals. which would you rather support? something that breaks down into water and CO2, or dangerous petrochemicals?

    not a silver bullet, and commercial corn farming does pollute with nitrates, and is hard on soil erosion prevention.. but technically, PLA can be made from several plants, not just corn, some of them are more ecofriendly than corn.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Kesuki – great to see a new face here and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I never did hear back from M&S with further information on this………It would appear the jury is still out.
    You give a new slant on the information though, so thank you for sharing it here!

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