Consider this the next time you’re getting free samples at the food warehouse store: the U.S. manufactures 40 billion plastic utensils each year.
The business case behind free food samples is pretty simple: consumers are more likely to buy a product that they sampled first. According to the Sacramento Bee, that number is as high as 70 percent of those who take the time to sample. But what happens to the cup and flatware left behind when the food is gone?
That will honestly depend on the retailer, as well as what disposal options are available in the area.
For example, Costco stores in the San Francisco Bay Area region provide bins in every store in the region for food and food-contaminated paper to be composted.
In some cases, food providers are mandated to ensure that disposables are properly disposed. In early July, the city of Seattle passed a law that requires any single-use food packaging be compostable or recyclable. It will then be collected by Cedar Grove Composting through a city contract.
Several of the newer lines of plastic ware are designed to be compostable, meaning the plastic is made of corn or sugar (instead of petroleum) to let it break down in a compost pile.
You can also find disposable flatware that isn’t made from plastic at all. The Ecotaster spoon is made of paperboard, which offers a high level of recycled content that many plastics do not. Food contamination may make recycling these spoons with other paperboard difficult, but they can also be composted.
Unless you have a compost pile at home, the best chance of keeping food sample waste out of landfills is to rely on the retailer. However, it may be worth asking if the container and flatware belong in a separate bin.