Packaging and containers

Disposable plates, cups, straws, cutlery, and take-out containers

Watch out for disposable dinnerware made of corn! I had a very unpleasant experience after eating a corn-free meal off one of these plates. (The plate was supplied by a relative. It did not occur to her that something that is not food could cause a reaction). The plates in question looked like ordinary unbleached paper.

The efforts of environmental lobby groups mean that corn-based containers are becoming more and more common both in local restaurants and in institutional settings such as university campuses. (Good for the environment, awkward for corn-sensitive people: I do not look forward to taking my own cutlery and tupperware with me every time I eat out). Compostable eating utensils, cups, and drinking straws made of corn starch are sold at increasing numbers of stores and used in more and more restaurants (eg. Freshii and the Stockyards). Farmers’ markets, such as the one at the Evergreen Brickworks, and even the Direct Energy Centre‘s food vendors use only corn-based cups, so if you want a coffee, you’ll have to bring your own mug! Some airlines also use corn-based containers for in-flight meals.  The Globe and Mail called eco-cornstarch dishware trendy in 2010, and its popularity continues to grow. On the bright side, a number of companies are promoting biodegradable dinnerware made from other plant material in addition to corn-based ones. These other alternatives should be fine for people allergic to corn.

I have confirmed (2017) with the manufacturer of PurPod compostable coffee pods that there is only one ingredient in their bioplastic that is derived from corn — a monomer used in their proprietary polymer mix. It’s unlikely that the pods will be allergenic for people allergic to corn.

Smithsonian Magazine published an article on the history of corn-based plastics in 2006. It’s an interesting read.

Packaging materials

Corn-based biodegradable packing peanuts are quite common now. For example, Caremail brand is sold at Staples.ca (a major chain of office supply stores).

Compostable flower pots made from corn and soy waste are also going to hit the market soon (2017).