Sunday, April 18, 2010

Styrofoam Remorse

Confession time: I brought home take-out in a styrofoam box Friday night, and it has been haunting me since. After reading Gabe's great post about how to reduce waste when you go out to dinner, I was determined that I would say good-bye to styrofoam take-home boxes forever, but here's what happened.

A few minutes before my mother-in-law planned to take me and the kids out to dinner, I had thought, "I should really put a few Tupperwares in the car." Soon ensued the mad scramble for a clean shirt for Bobby, nicer pants for Devin, and two shoes that matched for three kids. My good intentions hit the back-burner until we neared the end of our meal.

The boys had a good amount of food left-over, and I'm never one to waste food. When the waitress politely asked if we needed a box, I hesitated and then conceded, "Sure." Why was asking for foil so hard? Was I afraid she would think I was an environmental freak? Even if she did, why should I care?

I begrudgingly accepted the box, even though I was consumed with guilt. We then ordered dessert and once again had left-overs, but this time, I mustered more courage: "Could you bring some foil instead of styrofoam, please?" I asked. Without a second thought she responded, "Of course!" and returned with foil and a smile. It wasn't an imposition for her, it saved the restaurant money, and helped me feel confident about making better environmental choices. I finally felt empowered to refuse styrofoam!

The following night Bob and I went on a rare date night since the mother-in-law was leaving the next day--two meals out in a row, alert the media! My meal was delicious but more than what I needed. I was secretly excited to demonstrate my new confidence. When the waiter asked if I wanted a box, I boldly replied, "No, could you bring some foil instead?" He looked puzzled and headed to the kitchen. He returned with a box of individual sheets of wax paper, explaining they had no foil. Huh? I hadn't expected a restaurant wouldn't have aluminum foil. How exactly was I supposed to wrap up steak with some juice, asparagus, potatoes au gratin, and squash in these small sheets?

This was clearly a project for an engineer; thankfully, I happen to be married to one. Stack the food just so, fold it this way, then that way, tuck in another piece the opposite direction and presto! Another waitress seeing us wrestle with this project offered, "We have boxes; would you like me to get one?" We burst out laughing.

Bob: "Styrofoam boxes?"
Waitress cheerfully: "Uh-huh!"
Bob: "No thanks. It'll just sit in a landfill for 100,000 years."
Waitress confused: "Then you don't want one?"
Bob politely: "No."

Still not getting that we are avid environmentalists, she returned a few minutes later with a plastic bag. She seemed surprised when we refused that too. We should have taken it to at least recycle it because she just probably put it in the trash. Sigh.

In the future, I probably will bring a couple of reusable containers with us--yes, even on date night. I don't think about it because we go out so infrequently, but just like with cloth bags, every little bit counts. Even though I'm happy Knoxville now recycles styrofoam, it's always better to not use it in the first place.

A few fun facts about styrofoam:
  • Each year Americans throw away 2.3 million tons of packing peanuts, used coffee cups and other Styrofoam products. Source here.
  • Styrofoam products take up approximately 25 to 30 percent of space in landfills around the world. Source here.
  • Styrofoam was invented in 1952 and is created from petroleum and natural gas by-products. It's unclear how long it takes to biodegrade, but once it does, harmful chemicals can eventually end up in groundwater. Source here.
  • Burning landfills containing Styrofoam release 57 dangerous chemical byproducts into the air. Source here.

1 comment:

  1. I not only feel the guilt but I get mad when a server brings us styrofoam, especially in a cup form for our daughter to drink out of. It sounds like you are doing great--it is one step at a time. Who knows how many servers and restaurants you might encourage to be more aware of the styrofoam issue!