Fredericksburg SHINES

Leading the Way in Sustainability

Doing the Right Thing, Ditching Polystyrene

Locals go biodegradable with to-go containers

Most, if not all, Americans have heard that Styrofoam ® is not biodegradable; yet it is still widely used across the country. Why is that? Probably because it is convenient and serves the intended purpose quite well. But do the pros outweigh the cons? Some Fredericksburg residents and business owners do not believe so, and are ditching polystyrene forever.

Just the Facts[i]

Material:
Polystyrene, a.k.a Styrofoam ® (Dow Chemical’s brand name)Made From:

  1. Benzene "“ Toxic mutagen (alters chromosomes) and carcinogen; extracted from coal in strip mines; also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and auto exhaust
  2. Styrene Monomer "“ Hazardous Substance, mutagen and neuro-toxin
  3. Ethylene "“ Common refrigerant, used here as a blowing agent (to make product lightweight)

Good Properties:
Lightweight, excellent insulator

Bad Properties:
Non-biodegradable, expensive to recycle, bulky (25-30 percent of landfill space), burning it releases more than 90 different hazardous chemicals

Alternatives:

  1. Eco-Foam ® – made from corn starch; compostable; biodegradable; can be used to make everything from dinnerware to packaging to trash bags
  2. Ceramic, glass, paper or recyclable plastic containers

Fredericksburg Gourmet Coffee & Tea

Ben Large, owner of Fredericksburg Gourmet Coffee & Tea, is not a radical when it comes to conservation. "I just got to listening to people" about the downside to polystyrene. "[Foam] cups are not recyclable, and I didn’t want to contribute even more [to the landfill]," he says. Large has ditched the use of polystyrene in his shop, and now uses compostable paper cups and recyclable plastic containers made from plant materials.

Unfortunately, doing the right thing can cost a bit more, but Large chose not to pass the cost on to his customers. "I feel this is important, and I want to do my part as a retailer," Large explains. "I didn’t want to raise my prices." He continued, saying, "The extra price would not kill me, so I just bit the bullet [and absorbed the cost]."

Earth-friendly to-go containers are not the only way Large does his part. Fredericksburg Gourmet Coffee & Tea composts left over food and coffee grounds, recycles coffee bags, uses organic sugar and flour in baked goods, uses only organic and fair trade coffee, uses mostly loose-leaf teas, collects rainwater, and even offers 92 cent refills for customers who bring their own mug "“ regardless of size.

Denise Holtz and the St. Nikolaus Markt

Denise Holtz, committee member for the Chamber-run St. Nikolaus Markt, is also doing her part. "This year (December 3-5, 2010), the St. Nikolaus Markt and participating vendors will be recycling their cardboard boxes and using recyclable or biodegradable food and drink containers," explains Holtz. Some recycling efforts were implemented last year, but Holtz, Jim Jarreau and the committee are ramping up efforts for the 2010 event. Jeff Jeffers, owner of Auslander and the beer vendor for St. Nikolaus Markt, will provide corn-based cups, the company who makes CLIF Bars will set up recycling bins and John Watson, director of Green Living for the Hill Country, provided the committee with a list of suppliers for other biodegradable products. Use of these earth-friendly goods will increase costs for the vendors, however, Holtz says they all seem to be receptive to the efforts.

Holtz began her crusade when she moved from in-town, where she did not have to think twice about the availability of water, to the country, where she had to dig a well. "Living in the country, without city amenities, like water and trash, makes you think in a different way," she said. "In the country, you have to rely on your own resources. We now recycle our glass and plastic, use biodegradable products whenever possible, and burn non-caustic trash."As a Chamber Ambassador, St. Nikolaus Markt committee member and concerned citizen, Holtz would like to see all events held at Marktplatz follow in the footsteps of the St. Nikolaus Markt’s green efforts. Holtz believes this goes beyond politics to a physical and spiritual level, and at the core is about the livelihood of future generations. With the St. Nikolaus Markt, she hopes to show Fredericksburg, and cities of all sizes, that doing the right thing is not only essential, but easy as well.

Do the Ditch

You now know that polystyrene is not only non-biodegradable, but contains seriously harmful chemicals. Do the ditch and make the change to reusable, recyclable and biodegradable products. Here are a few ways you can make a difference:Individuals:

  • Take reusable containers when you go out to eat for left-overs
  • Purchase plastic or paper dinnerware instead of polystyrene
  • Take reusable cups or mugs when purchasing coffee, tea, water or fountain drinks
  • Support local businesses and events that have done the ditch like the following:

Businesses:

  • Purchase recyclable and/or biodegradable containers (contact me to find a local supplier)
  • Charge customers/employees for to-go containers (covering the higher cost of recyclables)
  • Provide incentives to customers/employees who bring in reusable containers (it cuts down on the amount of to-go containers you must purchase)
  • Advertise your eco-conscious use of containers (let me know and I’ll add you to the list above)
  • Apply for the Fredericksburg CARES Environmental Solution Leadership Award

Take it a step further and look for ways to green all your practices. I offer proven tips and resources on my Web site to get you started, and can even visit with you at your home or office for a more detailed and individualized plan of action.

Postscript by John Watson on September 13, 2013
Since this article was written, Sweet Marley’s and Hill Country University Center have adopted zero waste strategies and have chosen alternatives to Styrofoam products.   Also, Kelly’s Cafe and Fredericksburg Gourmet Coffee and Tea are no longer doing business in Fredericksburg.
[i]Cradle to Grave:   The Life Cycle of Styrofoam ®
By Andrea Kremer
Race, Poverty and the Urban Environment
Professor Raquel Pinderhughes
Urban Studies Program
San Francisco State University
Spring 2003

contributed by  Aden Holasek    3/29/2010

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