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Sustainable STEM: Transitions2earth Corn-based Flatware

Updated: Aug 18, 2022


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Today’s on Ben + STEM’s sustainable and eco-friendly materials and supplies for your STEM/STEAM classroom, we are exploring Transition2earth cutlery (i.e., spoons, forks, and knives) manufactured from corn! In later blog posts, we will explore other biodegradable/compostable/recyclable flatware options like bamboo, rice, wood, avocados, and more! Interested in trying out these items yourself? Check out the Sustainable STEM Sample Box.


In my years of teaching STEM, I have used A LOT of plastic flatware. Most of the time, they were intended to be used once and then discarded. Some examples were cutting up strawberries to extract DNA, scooping soil, and forks for robot arms...the list is endless.

Also endless is this teacher's love of plants. All the plants.



As any teacher on a budget and constant time crunch, one-time disposable plastic flatware was simple, cheap, and structurally-dependable material. Plus, I really didn't think too much about the environmental impacts of my classroom consumables at the time in addition to my other teaching responsibilities.


Plastic flatware is typically made out of polypropylene (petroleum-based) or polystyrene with the use of an injection mold. The EPA considers polypropylene is categorized as non-toxic and a safer form of petroleum-based plastic compared to others, but it some studies suggest it can cause some cancers and it can cause respiratory irritation if the material is inhaled. According to HabitsofWaste.org, over 400,000,000,000 plastic forks, spoons, and knives are thrown away each year- residing in landfills or the ocean for the next thousand years.



So what is corn-based flatware?


Ideally, reusing flatware from activity to activity is the most environmentally-friendly approach; however, if you are going to have single-use spoons for an activity, than corn-based flatware is an option to explore.


Corn-based biodegradable flatware came onto the scene in the 1980's and the brands I have seen are BPA-, BPS, PFAS-Free and non-toxic. A brand I have in the image below is a spoon from Transition2Earth.





I find the Transition2Earth to be extremely similar in look and feel to plastic flatware. They are very strong and heat stable (i.e., heat won't travel up the handle) and I think they are respectably comparable to plastic spoon for STEM activities.




How long to degrade? Depends on the brand and the components that make up the flatware, but a range that I researched for corn-based was approximately 180 days.

Are corn-based materials the perfect solution to replace plastic in a STEM classroom? Unfortunately, it is not a straightforward yes. The 180 days to compost down will likely not happen in a compost bin in your backyard or school garden. In most cases, the flatware needs to be taken to an industrial composting company that breaks down the materials with high heat. These items also should not go into the traditional recycling center! These considerations should be taken into account if you opt to try corn-based flatware.

Moving forward:


If you choose to move toward corn-based biodegradable materials,

  1. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions to dispose of the materials. Just because it says “compostable” or “biodegradable” does not necessarily mean that it can broken down in the school garden.

  2. Avoid brands that use plastic to individually wrap the flatware

  3. Keep reading Ben + STEM blog to read about other biodegradable options that are available that can break down more naturally than corn-based flatware.



Keep an eye out for more at Ben + STEM as we continue to explore eco-friendly materials and supplies for your STEM/STEAM classroom! Interested in checking out these items yourself? Check out the Sustainable STEM Sample Box.


That's all for now!


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