Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Doggie Bag Dilemma

I love a great meal in a nice restaurant. I am a chef by trade so nothing makes me happier. Often the food is so good that I want to take it home and have it the next day so I will ask the waiter for a box. What he brings me has been a source of angst for for some time. THE STYROFOAM CLAM SHELL!!! We take them home and throw them away without giving it a thought as to what happens next. I am a chef at a Yacht Club at the Jersey Shore. My bartender there is a lovely young man who insists that the styrofoam plates we use must go into a recycling container. Every Friday night, he loads them into his car and drives 2 hours towards home and drops them at the local recycling plant. They are few and far between in most places so most municipalities do not collect them with the recycling.

 Let's talk about styrofoam's impact on the planet. I think you will be as surprised as I was.

Styrofoam has been the 5th largest form of toxic waste since 1986.

1369 tons of styrofoam goes into landfills every day. That is 25-30% of the space in landfills making it one of the worst forms of landfill waste out there. Due to the way garbage is compacted in landfills with dirt then thrown overtop of them, nothing is able to decompose property making paper as difficult to decompose as styrofoam. 

Sunlight on styrofoam releases chemical pollutants into the air. Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrocarbons are released with solar exposure creating contamination of landfills, damage to the ozone,and causing air pollution. 

In landfills, styrofoam creates a barrier for water. As a result, water soaks the garbage creating  a chemical laden "soup" that will later leak into ground water in heavy rains.

It takes 500 years for one styrofoam cup to decompose in a landfill. Half a millennia.

Incineration releases 90 hazardous chemicals into the air including dioxin and styrene vapors

Currently the small amount of styrofoam that is recycled is often recycled into another product that is less than favorable to the environment, such as cafeteria trays and other forms of packing materials.

 The solution to this problem is obvious. Don't use it. Many large chain restaurants have gone to more earth friendly containers but most small restaurants continue to use them. Many companies that ship products are finding biodegradable solutions but you still see styrofoam blocks and peanuts pretty frequently. This makes not having it in your life a little difficult but there are some things you do have a little more control over to reduce usage.

Use reusable containers for food and drink like ceramic coffee mugs, plastic travel mugs.

Sit down at The restaurant rather than getting takeout. If you are going to have food wrapped ask if they can use a foil take out container or wrap the food in foil. 

There is another solution to the restaurant clamshell dilemma but count on the waiter giving you a funny look. I will do it. I have no shame. Bring your own container. Certainly you can bring your own plastic one from home but you also can clean a previously acquired styrofoam one out and reuse it.

Use products made from biodegradable earth friendly materials at home. There are several products that are made from earth friendly products available in most supermarkets. 

Buy eggs in recycled paper containers. We began getting our eggs from a local farm. We keep the 3 containers she brings them in and give them back to her to refill. (and fresh eggs taste SOOOOO much better than the ones bought in the grocery store.)

Recently I began using the take out containers that were resistantly forced into my life, to hand cut and make into printing blocks. I use the printing blocks to print my bags and t shirts which are also repurposed.They can be used indefinitely with a quick rinse in water. Simply cut the flat square out of the top and bottom of a container or plate. draw an image with a ball point pen ( one that doesn't write works well as the ink may show on your print. I sort of like that so I vary between the two.) Paint it with acrylic paint and print on paper, cloth or wood. 

I have heard of using them as "shrinky dinks" for making jewelry but that requires heating them in the oven creates fumes that are dangerously toxic even in a well ventilated room so i wouldn't recommend it.

If for some reason you end up with a mess of peanuts, they can be used to make or refill a beanbag chair. 

They can be sewn into a couple of squares of fabric to make an insulated seat so your bottom isn't freezing at that next football game. Again just cut the flat parts out of the plate or container. Layer them about four or five deep and tape them together with duct tape. Slide them into the fabric pouch and sew shut.

And I had to include this because I was absolutely in awe when I found it.This hanging lamp is made from PACKING PEANUTS!!!

Styrofoam is effective, light, inexpensive, and versatile. People are going to continue to use it. However, we do have the ability to reduce the amount that is used. I understand that changing our behavior can be a hassle but once you get used to it, it really is very simple. Every time you grab a styrofoam cup at the coffee pot at work, just picture that coffee cup laying on the ground 500 YEARS from now. 

To see more of my block printed shirts and bags and other cool up cycled stuff, check out my shop at:

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