The Food Coop's Environmental Committee has often gotten into discussions about the relative advantages of biodegradable products, such as biodegradable corn-based paper plates. On the surface it seems better to buy these than ordinary disposable paper plates. But is it? If you throw a corn-based paper plate in the trash--where does it end up? Not in a compost pile, which would enable biodegrading. Regular trash goes to landfills--and the conditions there are not aerobic enough to allow these corn-based plates to biodegrade. So unless you're going to compost these plates, there doesn't seem to be an advantage.
But there is also the matter of the product's whole lifecycle. Although the end result of a corn-based paper plate may be not different than a regular one, the production would seem to spare trees. But is there any disadvantage to using corn to make paper plates? Corn uses water and land for growth and needs energy to be made into plates and transported. And was land that formerly held trees specifically cleared to grow corn? You can see why this topic might inspire reaching for an aspirin!
Earth 911 has a fascinating piece on What is Biodegradable? Let us know if you have any thoughts on the Coop carrying "biodegradable plates" or other products.