Compostable corn-tainers replace plastic

Sure, you enjoy ordering healthy carry-out food from your local natural products store, but does the waste—namely, those plastic food containers that can’t be returned, reused, or recycled—leave you feeling guilty?

With new technology, you can get your next order of roasted potatoes packed inside something more sustainable: corn. A new line of corn-based plastic, called NatureWorks PLA, is now offered in some stores, including Wild Oats Markets, as an alternative to petroleum-based containers.

The corn-tainers, which look identical to plastic to-go boxes, are created using a fermentation process similar to that of winemaking. The process turns bushels of corn into small plasticlike pellets, which can then be molded into containers, carpet, and even clothing. The containers require 20 percent to 50 percent less fossil fuel to create and take just 47 days to compost into organic matter. Many natural products stores carrying the corn-tainers have installed bins where customers can return their empty containers for composting and eventual resale as all-natural humus to farmers and gardeners.

—Shanna Germain

Other earth-friendly options

  • Bring your own containers. Many markets are OK with you filling your reusable container brought from home.
  • Eat there. Most in-house delis offer washable dishes for dining in the store.
  • Talk to the manager. Let the decision-makers know you’d like them to switch to renewable containers.