Lynn Colwell has this action on her PG Plan for quite a while now. (You can see her plan at PracticallyGreen.com; click here.)
Frankly, you’d think the eco-guru co-author of Celebrate Green and family hostess extraordinaire might already have checked this one off. After all, anyone talented enough to come up with this heirloom Easter basket should be able to eliminate the Styrofoam in her life, right?
It turns out that this action is not so easy.
Ah styrofoam*, how do I dislike thee—let me count the ways:
- You are made from oil. (What a waste!)
- You never degrade in landfills. (Which the American Chemistry Council says is a good thing because “degradation creates harmful liquid and gaseous by-products that could contaminate groundwater and air.” Huh?)
- You can release toxins when hot food or drink is placed on/in you. (Not good!)
- While your cousins, styrofoam peanuts and packaging, can be recycled, when you are soiled by food, only landfills will accept you. (How is it that I don’t feel sorry for you?)
For all those reasons and more, I have been working to swear off styrofoam. (For instance, I just plain dislike so-called convenience items that we’ve been programmed by great advertising into thinking we “need.”)
It’s easy enough when it comes to packaging. I’ve got three giant bags of packing peanuts (saved from what others have sent to me), that I use whenever I need to mail something fragile. I always include a note asking the recipient to please re-use or check with www.Earth911.com to find a nearby facility that can re-use them. (If I ever needed an alternative to reusing “made-from-oil peanuts” I might consider purchasing dissolvable/compostable peanuts, or better yet, using shredded or balled up paper from my recycling bin, or rags or dishtowels.)
Styrofoam cups aren’t much of an issue for me because I almost always remember to bring my refillable water bottle when I’m going to the type of establishment where glasses made of actual glass are as likely to appear as Elvis.
On the other hand, as much as I try when eating at a restaurant, to dodge eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome, therefore avoiding the need for take-out boxes altogether, sometimes I end up with a stuffed tummy anyway, along with $10 worth of food sitting undisturbed on the plate.
But, of late, thanks to my Practically Green commitment, I’ve been carrying a glass food storage container in my car just in case. Of course no one blinks when a waiter appears with a styrofoam container for leftovers, even at a relatively upscale restaurant (this is Seattle, not Paris). But when I show up with my personal substitute, I have seen some eyebrows shoot right through the roof!
On the other hand, this habit, like any, is easy once you get into it.
But if you’re not ready to cart around your own take-home containers, you should know that there are alternatives available for stores and restaurants. None is as good as bringing your own reusables, but they are better than styrofoam for various reasons:
- Containers made from number 5 plastic: recyclable
- Containers made from sugar cane or cardboard: biodegrade under the proper circumstances and may be composted in facilities using high heat (like our compost facility here in Seattle)
So if your neighborhood hangout is still using styrofoam, why not ask them to look into a better alternative?
Recently I went to a Chinese takeout place and when I was handed my dinner in one of those #5 containers, I just about hugged the manager! In a loud voice to ensure other patrons would hear me, I exclaimed how happy I was that they were not using styrofoam and thanked them for caring for the planet and their customers.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple rolling their eyes in unison.
But I also got a half dozen thumbs up as I walked out with my beef and broccoli happily ensconced in a NON-styro container!
*To be precise, styrofoam as we commonly use it is not the correct word. The term Styrofoam™ with a capital “S,” is a trademark of The Dow Chemical Company for closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam used for thermal insulation and craft applications only. Styrofoam with a lowercase “s” has entered our vocabulary as a generic term for cups, plates and packaging materials which are made from generic foam and not from true Styrofoam™. Just in case anyone asks.