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Jun 062008

Organizations like the National Restaurant Association say that, although they are concerned about the controversy over Styrofoam, they don’t have a particular stance — yet — regarding the product’s potential dangers.

“We don’t have any research on the use of Styrofoam packaging,” says Annika Stensson, who handles public relations for the association. “However, I know that many restaurants are looking into viable alternatives – including biodegradable materials – but some challenges include cost, availability, food safety and making sure packages maintain food quality.”

She points to the NRA’s new push, the “Conserve Initiative,” which is in its early stages and is currently focusing on energy, water and construction, she says.

“We’ll be moving into additional areas, including packaging, later this year but we don’t have a whole lot at this point.”

The Green Restaurant Association, whose stated mission is to consult with and help restaurants create viable plans to green up, has a wholly different approach to Styrofoam.

Playing devil’s advocate, though, Michael Oshman, the GRA’s executive director, asks why more restaurants aren’t doing a lot of different things to help the environment – things they could do fairly easily and relatively cheaply.

“You could ask that about anything — why they’re not recycling, why they’re not using energy-efficient lighting — not just Styrofoam!”

But when asked why many restaurants haven’t freed themselves from foam, Oshman gives a more somber answer, noting that it’s a matter of evolution within the industry.

“There are the leaders, there are the close followers and there are the last ones to come on. …It’s going to end (use of polystyrene) when enough restaurants are doing it and there’s enough of an interest on consumers’ parts. Then people change.”

He says that Styrofoam really isn’t necessary — nor as irreplaceable as some in the food service sector claim.

“We just endorsed a Styrofoam substitute (Fold-Pak’s BioEarth Plus). It’s 100 percent recycled material, 35 percent post-consumer waste. So part of it is the social groundswell and people not wanting to be the last to do something… Better environmental products are coming on to the market all the time. There are alternatives on the market, and there are plenty of restaurants that have gone Styrofoam free.”

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