News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 10, 2014

No more foam

Use of polystyrene foam sinks as groups join national movement toward eco-friendly options

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County park officials are phasing out the use of polystyrene foam plates and cups in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

The last use of the polystyrene foam, commonly but not correctly referred to by the trademark brand Styrofoam, will be this weekend at the 27th annual Pancake Breakfast at Fowler Park. Styrofoam is a trademarked product of Dow Chemical for use in building insulation and craft products, not in food containers.

“We have some old supplies of it, and we plan to run that down at the pancake breakfast,” said Amber Slaughterbeck, natural resource programmer for the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department. “When we run out, we will switch over to environmentally friendly products.”

The department will use corn-based plates and paper-based products for cups, she said.

The department has three main events at which the new products will be used — future pancake breakfasts, Pioneer Days in October and its annual Christmas Walk in December.

Slaughterbeck said the price of using recycled products will cost slightly more than its current polystyrene foam dishes and cups. “This is a step we are making to step away from not-so-environmentally friendly products,” she said.

Slaughterbeck said the county park system currently does not recycle at all; however, the park department is seeking grants for recycling bins, initially targeted at recycling bottles and cans.

Polystyrene is not widely recycled and breaks down into small pellets that can harm birds and marine animals.

“There is some recycling from large industrial centers such as Walmart, where there are large quantities of clean Styrofoam,” often used for packaging, said Carey Hamilton, executive director of the Indiana Recycling Association. “Overall, there is not much recycling.”

Paul Reed, manager of Indiana State University’s Recycling Center, said the center does not have a market for recycling polystyrene, as it has to be clean, not from food or drink containers. “There is just not a market in this area for recycling that,” Reed said.

There are also potential production risks. The International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that styrene is a possible human carcinogen.

Dana Babel, resident district manager for Sodexo, the dining and food provider on ISU’s campus, said the company began using environmentally friendly containers in August. “We have been completely [polystyrene foam] free for a couple of months in our Sodexo-run operations,” Babel said. “We are now working with George’s and The Mein Bowl, two subcontractors, to switch their containers over as well.”

Babel said Sodexo used to go through a couple of thousand of polystyrene containers per month.

Up next is to use recycled paper products for concessions on campus, working with Pepsi to do so. “We have tested some of the cups this year and are moving forward with a new cup,” hoping to launch that with the start of the university’s baseball season, Babel said.

Another food provider, Clabber Girl Bake Shop, also began a switch away from polystyrene to recycled paper products mid last year.

“It was something that we were looking at just to make changes in the quality of our takeout containers. [Polystyrene foam] is not renewable, and people recycle paper products easily, so it has a lighter impact on the environment,” said Teresa Shaffer, executive director of public relations and corporation communications for Clabber Girl.

“We also started recycling efforts in our catering as well in the bake shop restaurant. It is an effort on our part to encourage conservation of natural resources and reduce our waste,” Shaffer said.

The corporate world has also begun to replace non-recyclable polystyrene foam. United Airlines last week announced it was introducing a new eco-friendly coffee cup, to be on United flights starting in mid March. The InClycle cup, made by MicroGreen, is fully recyclable and made from 50 percent recycled materials. The cups will be in United club airport lounges this month.

Last year, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food franchise, announced it will use paper-based cups at all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants. McDonald’s stopped using polystyrene for its sandwich “clamshells” in 1990.

Many major cities have also banned the use of polystyrene foam. New York City banned its used in December, joining other cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., which banned its use in 1990.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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