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.


The legacy of London 2012 1

The London 2012 Games officially closed on Sunday evening with an amazing display of culture, music, and entertainment. In 16 days, the world watched a whirlwind of superb athletic skill and witnessed emotion that many will not likely forget. But what will the legacy of London 2012 be?

Throughout the planning phase, the Olympic Committee considered sustainability in the truest sense – meeting current needs while also planning for the future. As the website states, “our aim is for the Games to leave an amazing legacy – for the Games to be remembered not only as a summer of fantastic sport, but as the catalyst for the regeneration of one of the most underdeveloped areas of the UK.” As the first blog in our Olympics series discussed, the area of the games was transformed from a brownfield to the site of Olympic Park. And notably, Olympic Village, that formerly housed the athletes during the Games, will  now be used as housing for thousands in London, including affordable housing.

 We can see how sustainability surrounded the Games by looking at the 3 pillars of sustainability and the practices in London:

Social: community engagement, equality and inclusion, jobs and training

Economic: business, increase in GDP

Environmental: health and safety, new infrastructure (energy, water, transportation), and green building/environmental efforts (reduced energy use, wildlife habitat, rainwater collection, renewable energy, zero waste goal)

 But the Games are over. Can the full circle recycling effort elicit a behavioral change like the Olympic Committee intended? Will those practices leave a lasting impression on residents of London and global visitors? Without a doubt, London set the bar high, accomplishing so much related to sustainability for such a massive event. The future story for London is yet to be told. Only time will tell if London will pass the sustainable torch and legacy to Rio and beyond.

Photos courtesy of

Going for the Gold with Zero Waste 1

Continuing our discussion of sustainability at the London Olympics, recycling is another important and visible practice at this year’s games.

 The London 2012 Olympics webpage states, “We want to host the very first zero-waste Olympic and Paralympic Games – but we can’t do it without you.” First, it is certainly a lofty goal for such a massive event to achieve zero waste. But like every athlete at the games, the Olympic Organizing Committee is aiming for the Gold, or should I say, the Green! The second interesting part about the statement is that it requires active participation from the spectators and visitors. People have to make the decision to recycle appropriately. The organizers have made it easy with a color-coded symbol system located on various items:

As part of this process, black bin waste doesn’t go to the landfill. Instead, the non-recyclables are sent to an energy recovery plant.

 Notably, to reach the zero waste goal, the Olympic Organizing Committee is receiving more help than from just the patrons. Coca Cola, one of the major sponsors for this year’s Olympics, is collecting all of the clear plastic bottles and recycling them into new bottles. It is estimated that 80 million new plastic bottles will be made within 6 weeks of the Closing Ceremony!  

 The Zero Waste Games Vision document describes the methodology and vision behind ts arduous task. This includes the Guiding Principles: waste hierarchy (shown in the image), proximity principle, national/regional context, sustainability, risk management, regulatory compliance, operational deliverability, and legacy.  Not only is this zero waste goal the first of its kind for the Olympics, but the vision is “to deliver a Zero Waste Games, demonstrate exemplary resource management practices and promote long-term behavioural change.”

 While much controversy surrounds this zero waste goal, and even around the sponsors of the games, will the Olympic Committee’s vision be met?  What will the legacy of London 2012 look like? For more on the legacy, look for our next blog.


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