Is Styrofoam going out of style? Reply

In a recent town meeting, the town of Brookline, MA banned restaurants from using polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) containers and cups. This decision follows suit locally with Amherst, MA and Great Barrington, MA as well as 100 other cities nationwide.

Why are municipalities so concerned about polystyrene if it is so lightweight and made of 95% air?

  • Polystyrene is petroleum-based, which is a non-renewable resource
  • There are potential adverse health effects for the workers that make it
  • The chemical can leech into food and beverages inside the container
  • It is difficult to recycle and not biodegradable so it is commonly dumped into landfills
  • It is a common source of litter and can harm animals (Source: Green Restaurant Association)

Post-consumer recycled paper content, bamboo, or plant-based plastics are environmentally friendly materials that can be used as alternatives. A quick search on the internet leads one to find hot cups composed of wood pulp and biodegradable plastic, entirely renewable resources that are compostable (Source: Branch). Quick service restaurants like KFC (part of Yum! Brands) have already made the change by implementing side containers that are reusable.  As a result, they aimed to reduce their foam packaging by 62% and plastic use by 17%.

Thinking about this in relation to the sustainability value chain, what motivates or pushes company to make more sustainable decisions? In this case, coffee shops and other quick service restaurants are being urged to make changes both from a customer and a regulatory standpoint. It begs the question, will the java and quick service restaurant giants only implement the change where mandated, or across the whole company?  Do these customer and regulatory driven changes cause companies to find alternatives faster than they normally would?  Let us know what you think about the ban, and how restaurants may comply with the ban.

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