Money for Great Lakes Cleanup & Composting Corn Forks

  • A driver opens up one of the 20-foot high compost piles at Tuthill Farms. He'll add the new compostable waste to the hot core of the pile, then cover it back up. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress. Julie Grant has more:

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

This is the Environment Report.

Have you ever seen those plastic forks or spoons made from corn or potatoes? It’s a big trend right now.

They’re compostable. So in theory… this tableware breaks down into a dark, rich material that’s really good for gardening.

So you get the convenience of disposable plastic… without adding to the big pile of plastic trash.

But here’s where things get tricky.

Great Lakes restoration projects

More about Tuthill Farms

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

A feasibility study looking at expanding composting at the University


Liz Shoch is with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. She’s working with companies to rethink the way they package their products.

“One of the things we say a lot currently is there is no sustainable package and that goes for compostable packaging too. There’s always tradeoffs.”

She says compostable packaging can be a good way to divert waste from the landfill. But it won’t break down in your backyard compost pile for a long time. So you have to find a special place that’ll take it.

And she says don’t think about putting compostable tableware in your recycling bin. Even the smallest bit of compostable packaging can mess up a whole batch of recyclable plastic and make it unusable.

So you might think – why not just throw it away?

“What happens in the landfill is most of what goes in there does not break down. However, some organic matter does break down, the problem with that is it’s usually breaking down without oxygen present, it creates carbon dioxide and methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.”

So what do you do with it? There are not a lot of places that take compostable packaging yet… but one Michigan farm does.

Tuthill Farms is in South Lyon. Sandra Tuthill and her husband Jim have 30,000 cubic yards of compost.

The farm had just gotten a truckload of coffee cups, utensils and bags… all made from corn.

(sound of front loader)

A guy driving a front loader cracks open a compost pile and steam rises out. He mixes the plates, cups and plastic bags into it. Sandra Tuthill says it’s about 165 degrees in there.

“Which is roughly the same temperature as a crock pot. Which is kinda interesting, so if you think about it, we have big crock pots out here, simmering all this stuff down.”

The Tuthills mix and turn the compost piles through the winter. Then in the spring, they sell the compost.

Sandra Tuthill says they’d love to take more compostable packaging – but they can’t take it from just anybody. That’s because they have to make sure there’s no trash along with the compostable material.

“The contamination is the biggest issue. We just can’t handle any trash. We want just the food waste or the compostable tableware.”

So you have to work pretty hard to find a good resting place for your potato fork.

Some experts say there’s not a lot of benefit to buying compostable tableware if it ends up in the landfill. They’re hoping to see more businesses take advantage of what these utensils are designed for: turning them into usable compost.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.