Plastic products always seem to be in the cross-hairs these days. But think for a moment about all the wonderful uses plastic products have in your daily life. Some of the less obvious places where plastics play a major roll are in items such as your car, shower, tooth brush and computer just to name a few. Other, more critical uses for plastics are in the medical industry such as the tubes that carry life giving medicines to your body and even prosthetic limbs. On that prosthetic note, check out this video about a great man who uses plastic to make prosthetic limbs for animals. This is just about the most heart warming video I have seen in a very long time. If you do not crack a smile when this dog walks for the first time on that artificial limb, there is something seriously wrong with you! Enjoy.
More absurdity regarding foam containers.
Sometimes you just need to make fun of the absurd!
Despite what this person writes in this article for the Huff & Puff Post, Congress has made the right choice. What this author fails to mention is all the alternatives they would so gladly replace foam food packaging for, is made in China. How typical of the stone throwers. Ban or make illegal what you do not understand or that which does not fit into their agenda. The facts are:
- Foam food packaging has been used safely for over 45 years.
- Foam food packaging is still the most economical choice of any material out there.
- Alternatives or biodegradables disposed of in a landfill will not “go away” in our life time.
- Alternatives or biodegradables littered into the environment will not magically go away. In communities that have banned foam, studies done afterwords show the amount of litter had not decreased, but rather only the type of litter changed.
As I’ve said many times in this blog, if consumers want to switch away from foam, then so be it. That’s how supply and demand works. In fact we offer a whole host of alternative packaging options. But let the consumer make that decision instead of forcing a change down their throats with legislation and fear mongering.
Cheers to Harris Sukita owner of Simply Ono lunch wagon and Jennifer Hino who sells specialty desserts in Hawaii, for standing up to big brother government out there. It seems that City Councilman Stanley Chang is trying to strong arm them into using one type of food packaging over another. Mr. Ono and Ms Hino both call out valid reasons why this “law” would hurt their businesses by means of lost profit and poor product presentation. Mr. Ono stated it best when he said, “When government starts telling me that I have to start giving up some of my profit to put into somebody else’s pocket, that’s when it becomes an issue”. Well said sir!
This is yet another prime example of a grossly misinformed politician who is trying to score cheap points by targeting small business owners. Councilman Chang points out that foam food packaging will not breakdown in our lifetime. Perhaps Mr. Chang should do his homework on modern day landfills. They are designed so nothing breaks down…not even organic materials. Also, as the opponents to this bully in the hallway bill point out, most foam food packaging is turned into electricity at HPOWER along with other refuse. Mr. Chang also claims that foam food packaging contains an substance that may cause cancer. This again is a typical scare tactic used to frighted and intimidate people. Foam food packaging has been used safely, with zero incidence of cancer for over 40 years. What more proof does he want? It’s like saying I won’t drink water because it contains two hydrogen molecules and I’m worried I will explode if I drink it. It’s absurd as is his bill.
Again, I’m not against compostable food packaging. Far from it. At Genpak we sell our Harvest Fiber & Harvest Paper products by the truckload. What I’m against is the government telling us what we can and can’t use to serve food in. This should be decided by the food operators and their customers. If the desire is to move from one type to another, fantastic. I’m on board. But when big government moves in like Mr. Chang is doing, and starts strong arming its citizens, that’s when it becomes a problem. Keep up the fight Mr. Sukita and Ms. Hino!
So the battle was lost and Albany County in its infinite wisdom has banned foamed polystyrene food service products. A week or so after the ban, we got a call from the County Executives office asking if we could help them in identifying alternative materials. Here’s how the call went:
Genpak: Yes I understand Albany County banned PS foam. Can you tell me what it was banned in favor of?
Albany: Um, all plastics
Genpak: All plastics were banned? So not even microwave safe material or clear “water bottle” type material?
Albany: Um wait a minute…shuffles papers, no banned in favor of biodegradable or compostable materials.
Genpak: Okay, what is the definition of biodegradable or compostable within the law?
Albany: Um (shuffles more papers) something that biodegrades or degrades within a reasonable time period.
Genpak: Thank you. What is the definition of a reasonable time period? Two months, twelve months, three years?
Albany: Um it does not specify.
Genpak: Okay, maybe we can determine this by the preferred method of disposal. Can you tell me where the municipal composting facility is located where these products will be diverted to?
Albany: Um it does not specify.
Genpak: So let me get the facts straight. The bans’ author has taken the time to target a particular material in favor of one that is compostable, but has not specified a time frame for composting, the preferred method of disposal or a suitable composting facility?
Albany: Um yes it sure looks like that’s what he did.
Genpak: Thank you. So what will happen then is the restaurant will source these products, pay around 3 times more for them, pass on the added cost to the consumer, who will then have a very nice compostable product to dispose of, which will almost certainly be into a garbage pail which will have a polyethylene liner. The resulting trash will be tied up tight, then shipped off to the local landfill where it will be buried with the rest of the waste. From there it will sit for decades before it begins to degrade.
Albany: Why will it sit for decades? I thought it was compostable.
Genpak: Yes, it is compostable, but only within industrial or professionally run compost facilities who are licensed to accept food grade waste. These facilities can control heat and moisture levels which allows the container to break down and completely compost into useful soil enhancement.
Albany: What if the containers end up littered. Will it go away in nature on its own.
Genpak: Perhaps in years it might, but certainly not in what most people would consider a reasonable amount of time. These products are not like leaves that break down within a season. If they were made that way, they’d never be able to be used for holding, transporting and protecting food products.
As I’ve said so many times before. We should let the markets decide which type of materials and containers they want to use. Almost always when this is the case, homework and testing has been done regarding a products entire life cycle. Consumers should be the force driving markets…not politicians. When the latter is the case, you get exactly what has happened in Albany County. They have done nothing more than put undo pressure on local businesses that can eventually drive consumer prices higher or stifle growth.
We manufacture and sell an awful lot of compostable products which is great. There are numerous instances where markets or food operators have made a conscious decision to switch their type of packaging from one material to another, but they have done their homework in terms of end of life scenarios for all their waste…including the packaging. They’ve arranged for recycling, reusing as well as worked out a composting program. When it’s done like this, it is a very good system. When it’s done by legislation being forced down businesses throats, nothing is accomplished except for making your club sandwich and fries go from $6.50 to $7.15.
I attended the hearing last evening in Albany held by the County Executive Dan McCoy, who listened to statements from folks regarding the proposed ban on foamed polystyrene food packaging. There was a good mix of people from individual citizens to local union workers to manufacturers. It was interesting listening to the people who were in favor of the ban and their misguided arguments. It became clear that much of what the proponents of the ban were saying was pulled from urban legend emails and internet chatter concocted by those who would demonize what they don’t like. The following is a summary and subsequent debunking of their arguments.
- Foamed polystyrene is “clogging” our landfills. FALSE! The EPA stated that in 2011, as a nation we generated 250MM tons of trash. Of that trash, 12.7% is listed as plastic. Keep in mind that is all plastics from shampoo bottles & toys to durable goods such as furniture. They estimate that only 2.8% of that plastic is non-durable goods such as plates, bowls and cups. The EPA did not segregate solid plastic from foamed plastic which, is the material being targeted in this ban. Consider for a moment that a foam 12 ounce bowl weighs about 58% less than a solid plastic 12 ounce bowl and you can reasonably concluded that the actual amount of foamed food service items going into landfills is more around the 1.5% number. Now I do not have a number I can hang on the word “clogging”, but 1.5% of something is far from any reasonable definition.
- Foam polystyrene is dangerous to your health. FALSE! One lady who spoke actually stated that these items were poisonous and why would we want to use poisonous products. The sad part was, she was not being facetious and had been convinced that foamed food service items would do her serious harm. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Foam food service items have been safely used for over 40 years. The FDA has approved foam food service items to be safe for food contact. In fact there are studies done by the Nevada Health Department that show the use of single use packaging is actually more safe that permanent ware due to lower microbial levels. Think about it. How many times have you gone out to eat and noticed your plate or silverware had little specs of food dried on it? This simply never happens with foam food packaging.
There was also a fair bit of chatter regarding the component styrene. This is an instance where people hear what they want to and disregard the rest. The fact is, styrene is a liquid whereas polystyrene is an inert solid. I’ve never seen a liquid version of a foam food container. Furthermore, styrene is present naturally in many foods we eat including beef, strawberries, wheat and cinnamon. In fact you’d be exposed to far more styrene by eating one cinnamon donut than drinking 30 cups of coffee from a foam cup. I have not heard of any bans on cinnamon donuts though. Why? Simple, the amount of exposure is so incredibly small, it is measured in parts per billion. The plain truth is foam food service products are totally safe. History, the FDA and the scientific facts support that claim whereas those who claim otherwise rely on hyperbole, urban legends and misinformation to confuse and misguide folks like that poor little lady who thought it was poisonous.
- Foam containers contribute to litter. Should this ban go through, Albany County would simply be trading one type of litter for another. The ban calls for replacements items to be compostable. Here again, the folks in the audience who brought up this point simply don’t know that even though an item may be designated as compostable, it simply will not go away like they think it will if littered. I know this because as a company we offer many compostable products and know that they will only compost when deposited in professionally run compost facilities that have control over heat and moisture exposure. One gentleman displayed a cup that had been littered and said if that were a paper cup or other compostable item, it would have gone away. That is simply not true. Consider this, it takes a leaf one full year to biodegrade back into the forest floor. How long do you think it would take a compostable cup or bowl, if littered to fully biodegrade? I’ll bet that gentleman thought it was maybe a month or two. I think not. More like a couple of years. Addressing the litter issue by banning a particular product in favor of a far more expensive (2 times more) item just places undo financial hardship on business owners who use those products. It does nothing about litter. A litterbug is going to litter that cup no matter what it is made of. It seems to me increasing fines and actually going after the litterbugs would do much more in controlling litter than banning a product. Catch someone and fine them $200 bucks for chucking a cup out their window will quickly change their minds on how to properly dispose of that cup. Litter is not something caused by food service single-use items. Litter is caused by unmanaged and overflowing trash receptacles, the general lack of properly placed trash receptacles and unscrupulous people who knowingly and illegally dump their refuse into the environment. Not that any litter is good, I thought it would be helpful to know that “fast food” packaging which is what we are talking about here, actually is a very small percentage of the total litter. Here is a graphic right from Keep America Beautiful that shows these containers are only 5.3% of the litter problem.
As you can see, I’ve linked in sources from reputable web sites and listed other references by name. Anything stated here can be looked up and verified…unlike most all of the wild claims made by proponents of the ban last night. I really think that 90% of the folks that spoke in favor of the ban are good people that are just not informed of the true facts. They have bought into the misinformation and outright falsehoods spread by the other 10% who simply have it out for “big business”. Hopefully the eight Genpakers along with the employees from other food packaging manufacturers that were present, helped to put faces behind company names. We are folks just like them who live and raise families right here in New York State. I doubt my little blog here will change the minds of those 10% who only hear what fits into their ideology, but for those other people, I truly hope that you will read and consider the facts before passing judgement.
Emperor Bloomberg is trying to inflict as much damage to the economy as he can prior to his exit as New York City Mayor by cramming through a ban that would stagnate job growth and raise consumer prices all while doing nothing to solve their litter issue. I think the most disturbing thing in that piece, was the video where all the school children were marched out by their “teachers” to chant against the polystyrene workers who came in support of their jobs. Typical it seems these days of certain groups. Demonize and belittle that which they do not agree with or which doesn’t fit into their ideology. A sad day for those poor school kids and shame on those “teachers” for forcing their personal views upon them.
I was recently in the San Francisco airport and noticed that most of fine food establishments were serving their food in containers that were marked as compostable. We’ve talked about compostable containers many times before, in this blog. In fact as a company, we sell quite a lot of compostable packaging under our Harvest product lines. What struck me as odd was there were no collection points set up for these containers. The only option for disposal was into the trash receptacles. Once they go into those garbage cans, they are headed for the landfill. Unfortunately, most people mistakenly assume that the container will compost or go away in the landfill. This is not the case.
Studies have shown that even organic materials (food waste, lawn clippings) last a very long time. So I guess the question is, did these food operations decide to “go green” thinking the containers would be composted, were they forced to by legislation, or did they just make a conscious decision to do this as an internal initiative based on consumer feedback. In a perfect world, the answer would be the last. I believe the markets and consumers need to be the force behind these types of decisions, but it is my guess that in this case, they were forced to since most every food outlet was using compostable packaging. I find it hard to believe that every individual food operation in that airport thought the same way in terms of their food packaging.
Just to be clear, I’m packaging neutral when it comes to the substrate used since I work for a company that sells most every type available. Paper, plastics, hybrids and yes 100% certified compostable products. I just think it is best to allow the markets (consumers) decide which materials are desired. This goes against the thinking of many in the political arena who would rather pick on materials that are deemed easy targets due to customer misconception and internet folklore. One needs to really ask what their motives are. Is it because it’s the will of their constituents or that they want to have some sort of perceived accomplishment? You decide.