In a perfect world, we could all bring reusable food containers and coffee mugs every time we visited a restaurant or cafe. However, when we're ordering takeout, we forget to bring our own containers with us, or if they're just inconvenient to carry on the go, we often need to use disposable boxes and cups.
With biodegradable take-out containers cheaper than ever, now is a great time for restaurants and cafes to do away with Styrofoam and paper and to adopt greener alternatives. While these alternatives do cost more than the traditional Styrofoam and paper cups and containers, their additional cost is relatively marginal over the course of a business year.
Whereas Styrofoam cups cost $25 per 1000, biodegradable cups can cost as little as $100 for 1000. This means that if your business uses 1000 disposable cups a year, the additional cost would be only $75 per year, which is the amount of money you might make in a single business day. With take-out containers, the additional costs for biodegradables can be less than $140 a year, if your business goes through 1000 of them in that time span.
That's all it would cost to help curb the use and disposal of Styrofoam, a product that takes a minimum of 20 generations (500 years) to biodegrade, was made using a nonrenewable resource (petroleum), and could potentially be ingested by animals when it inevitably breaks into small pieces.
Paper cups, in many cases, have even fewer redeemable qualities than Styrofoam, considering that they do not insulate heat nearly as well, take much more energy to produce, and cost well more than Styrofoam, at about $80 per 1000 units-which is only about $20 less than some biodegradable alternatives.
When the time it takes for many paper cups to decompose (over 20 years, if the cup is coated with wax) is factored in, paper looks even less attractive than Styrofoam from both an economic and environmental standpoint.
Thus, while large chain restaurants might save a substantial amount of money using traditional Styrofoam, paper, and plastic, small businesses can substantially reduce their environmental footprint with only a minor additional investment in biodegradable take-out boxes and cups.
Here are some resources that explain the economics and environmental impact of Styrofoam, paper, and plastic disposable containers:
And the following links provide a good sampling and explanation of some biodegradable alternatives:
Phillip Wu is a member of the SCA Trail Town Outreach Corps, an organization focusing on sustainable economic development in the towns along the Great Allegheny Passage supported by the Trail Town Program and the Student Conservation Association. Contact 724-603-3151.