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I am tasked with finding a compostable takeout containers for a food festival that we can use to replace thousands of styrofoam takeout containers. There are a lot of issues with convincing the organizers to do it; the two primary concerns are cost, and the durability of the container once hot, moist food has been sitting in it for a while (say, up to 30 minutes while somebody is driving home). The durability of the containers we buy is going to affect both of these issues.

The two materials I have been looking at (online suppliers) so far are sugarcane or natural fiber, both of which are compostable. Some of them have "heavy duty" or "lined" versions, which would likely stand up better to food. However, they are also up to double the cost — and since expense is an argument against the compostable containers in the first place, needing to buy an even-more-expensive version will be a tougher sell.

How durable is a "standard" compostable container compared to a "heavy duty" compostable container?

(Or, are there materials beyond sugarcane or natural fiber which are more like plastic and therefore essentially water-proof? Would they still be able to stand up to hot food safely?)

I plan to get samples of the various options and plan to test this myself, but that takes some time and I would appreciate some ideas so I know which avenues to pursue.

  • Note that styrofoam also has trouble with hot food. I have had fried foods melting the container. The issue is more the actual (highest) temperature than the duration of the exposure (not with moisture, of course). – Jan Doggen Oct 19 '15 at 11:22
  • @JanDoggen That is a good point. We haven't had an issue with melting in the past, so that is probably much less relevant than grease and/or liquid (gravy, tomato sauce, etc). Thanks! – era Oct 20 '15 at 13:04
  • Why not ask people to bring their own containers?? – Graham Chiu Mar 12 '18 at 23:49
  • @GrahamChiu we expect 1000+ attendees over the course of the day, and most will not be personally invited and therefore we can't request that – era May 5 '18 at 12:11
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Sugarcane and natural fiber are your best bets, but even they won't hold up to hot wet food over time. You could consider corn-based plastic, but these are biodegradable rather than compostable; still that's better than styrofoam.

You may also be able to find better prices on your heavy duty lined sugarcane or natural fiber containers if you buy very large quantities through a site like alibaba.com

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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Thank you for your answer, but do you have any references to back up your claims? Why is sugarcane better than corn-based plastic? – THelper Nov 12 '17 at 9:31
  • corn based plastics are made from GMO corn and decompose very slowly. scientificamerican.com/article/… – Graham Chiu Mar 12 '18 at 23:48
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How the containers hold up to the combined affects of heat and moisture, plus the carrying capacity (weight) will be crucial.

Your idea of doing a test to see how the different containers perform over time, say 24 hours is the best thing to do. After the containers, with food in them, have been on the bench for 2 or 3 hours put them in the fridge for 21 or 22 hours (some people put left over take out in the fridge). The cheapest environmentally degradable container that gives the best performance is the one to use.

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    This is not answering the question. You are telling the OP (how) to do the test, which he/she planned to do anyway. – Jan Doggen Oct 19 '15 at 11:25

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