Thursday, September 9, 2010

Say No to Styrofoam

Great commentary in today's Commercial Appeal about ditching styrofoam. My personal solution to keeping drinks cold is using a stainless steel straw.

Commentary: Styrofoam: No good for us, our food, our Earth
By Melissa Petersen, Special to the Commercial Appeal

I am particular about how I like my drinks served. I prefer beer in a bottle. Coffee belongs in an enormous mug. I like to see the tea and the ice cubes melt together in a tall glass. And somehow, a mint julep tastes better from a silver cup (even if it's just plated like mine).

Not a single drink is enhanced by being served in a Styrofoam cup.

We're not even talking about why Styrofoam is bad yet. I'm just focusing on what goes into it. The same could be said about food in Styrofoam. It doesn't keep French fries crispy (even McDonald's figured out years ago that paper works best). Styrofoam's slightly plastic flavor seems to seep into hot soup. It doesn't keep a salad crisp. Don't even try to wash and reuse it -- it won't work. So why is Styrofoam so prevalent in our food system if it doesn't really do anything good for the food and drink?

Styrofoam has a single, valuable quality -- Styrofoam is cheap.

I've heard people claim that Styrofoam keeps their high fructose-laden drink colder and I truly hope that a few degrees of coldness are worth an eternity of landfill space. Paper breaks down in a landfill. Aluminum, glass and many types of plastic are recyclable. But Styrofoam is here forever, taking up space, and leaching toxins into our food and our environment.

But coffee is too hot to hold in a paper cup.

But in the summer in Memphis, my drink won't stay cold in the car if it's not in Styrofoam.

But to-go food clamshells made from sustainable materials are too expensive.

But, but, but. It's just laziness and apathy that keep us from demanding better solutions. Styrofoam is banned in more than 100 cities across the U.S. (Portland, Ore., was smart enough to ban it back in 1990) for very good reasons. Styrofoam is bad for us, bad for wildlife who ingest its litter and bad for the environment.

Going green could be as simple as eliminating the Styrofoam from your diet.

Ask for to-go containers that are not Styrofoam (foil and paper work great). If enough people start asking, food service companies will start listening. Bring your own cup for coffee. Don't complain when the restaurants that are using compostable containers charge you a measly 50 cents. They are paying more to be environmentally conscious, and as more restaurants switch to eco-friendly containers, the price will come down, and it will be a moot point. Go hardcore and let places know that if they use Styrofoam, you won't patronize them.

I understand the food-service industry operates on small profit margins, but this is one point where we need to demand better and be willing to put our money where our mouths are, or to find safe, environmentally friendly alternatives.

I recently talked to a restaurant owner who really wanted to avoid the Styrofoam clamshells for to-go orders and leftovers, but was having a difficult time justifying the extra expense of eco-friendly containers. The solution was amazingly simple. It turns out that cardboard trays and foil actually secured the product better. No added expense. No toxins in the landfill.

Going green doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.

Take your pick: cheap and toxic Styrofoam, or something that may cost a few cents more.

It sure would be nice to enjoy food and drink from a suitable container that won't make us, our kids or the Earth sick. All you have to do is make a choice.

Melissa Petersen is the editor of Edible Memphis Magazine and a board member of Project Green Fork, an organization that helps local food-service establishments operate more sustainably. For a list of restaurants that have committed to eliminating Styrofoam from their operations, go to

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