Businesses throw tens of thousands of plastic cups, dishes, cutlery and containers in the garbage each day but growing interest in sustainable alternatives for food service disposables is spelling success for a small company devoted to biodegradable and recyclable food ware.
“This is something new and innovative,” said Caribe Compostables, LLC., President Jorge Carlos Rodríguez, an exclusive distributor in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean of World Centric compostable food ware products.
Based in Petaluma, California, World Centric supplies cups, plates, utensils, trays, takeout clamshells, and trash bags that are manufactured from bagasse (sugar cane fiber) and from Ingeo, a resin or bio-plastic derived from renewable corn.
Rodríguez said the product’s sustainability, appealing design and pricing is attracting clients who consider an environmentally friendly image as an asset.
“It speaks well of a business,” said Rodríguez. “This is a good quality product similar to what is in the market but without contaminating the environment.”
While compostable food service products are more expensive than conventional plastic, Rodríguez said his competitive pricing enables clients to get more units per box than they typically get for plastic food ware.
As an example, he said his clients can get a box of 1,000 units of compostable dishes for $122 compared with a box of 500 units of plastic dishes selling for $70.
“This is a generalized example since there are many different types of plastic dishes in the market and packaging and amounts differ among brands,” he said.
Even so, Rodríguez noted that higher petroleum prices have led plastic manufacturers to downsize, packing less units per package.
Clients lining up
In its first full year of operation (2013), Caribe Compostables made $30,000 in sales but 2014 is shaping up much better with sales of $140,000 during the first half of the year. A few bumpy months and the island’s economic instability notwithstanding, new clients are signing up.
“We’re growing noticeably, people are looking for us,” he said in an interview at the company’s 2,400 square-foot warehouse in Miramar’s Tras Talleres sector. Rodríguez said he is considering turning the front section of the warehouse into a store so he can sell directly to the public, possibly next year.
Meanwhile, the company is securing the distributorship of new sustainable products: storage and shopping bags by Bio Bags and a full line of products made by Preserve, a company that uses recycled plastics to make a wide array of house goods such as measuring cups, cutting boards, cutlery, dishes, colanders, toothbrushes and razors.
Rodríguez said he recently made a presentation to a major supermarket chain on the island and is waiting to hear if it will carry the product line.
“I believe in sustainability a lot but also in reusing products,” said Rodríguez, a veteran of the food industry and a surfer who grew uncomfortable with plastic litter on the beaches and the practice of cruise ships to dump diesel oil out at sea.
Caribe Compostables is basically a two-person operation: while his wife Lourdes Cardona handles administration and accounting, Rodríguez makes presentations all over the island, takes in and delivers orders, looks after clients. Providing a good service, he said, is a must in his line of business.
World Centric also supplies paper towels, bath and facial tissue and napkins made from wheat straw, the discarded fiber from crops grown for grain.
According to the company’s website, Ingeo is part of a new generation of plastics made from renewable plant-based materials such as starch, cellulose and soy protein.
Ingeo “feels similar to conventional plastics, is freezer safe, can handle hot food and drinks up to 100 degrees and composts completely in commercial composting facilities in three to six months.”
By contrast, fossil-based plastic and styrofoam are not biodegradable or compostable.