The other evening I was taking a stroll with my wife and we passed a guy who was taking his dog for a walk. It was a beautiful scene really. The sun was low in the Upstate New York sky, casting a light shade of red on the horizon with the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains silhouetted in the distance. The temperature was a pleasant upper 70’s and for once, it was not raining (my Ark is nearly completed in my back yard). The thing that made this scene funny to me was that this gentleman, in one hand, had a leash that secured man’s best friend and in the other hand swayed a plastic bag full of man’s best friend’s poop. So this fella was not only taking the dog for a walk, but was also walking a bag of crap.
I know I know, as my wife pointed out, it is the polite thing to do to clean up after Fido does number two. After all, if someone’s Great Dane did his business in my front yard, I’d probably appreciate a courtesy flush of sorts from the owner. By now you may be asking what any of this has to do with food packaging. Well it struck me that this tightly sealed bag of doodoo was headed for the owners trash can where, hopefully very soon for the owners sake, it would be picked up by their waste hauler (no pun intended) and sent to a landfill where it will set for years and years to come.
As many of you may know, the single use food service packaging industry has come under fire as of late and is being blamed for all sorts of issues from excessive litter to filling up our landfills. Politicians looking to score easy points are quick to target food packaging and in specific, foamed polystyrene which is often incorrectly referred to as “styrofoam.” That is actually a trade name for a DuPont product. Even here in our home state of New York, bills have been introduced with the short sighted and mis-informed aim of reducing litter or lightening the burden on landfills. But I submit for your consideration that should these and other like bills be passed, what will really happen is instead of one type of item being littered by unscrupulous people, it will be replaced by another type of item. Instead of one type of material going to a landfill, a different and most likely heavier type will be going where it will last a lifetime. Instead of a burger and fries costing twelve bucks, it will now cost fourteen bucks to cover the higher cost of alternative packaging. Or perhaps the food service operator will just make less profit and be forced to cut back elsewhere. Maybe he’ll need to reduce staffing? Also, instead of your meal arriving at your house still hot and ready to safely consume, it may arrive lukewarm or even cold resulting in even more stuff being tossed into the garbage. Lastly, instead of food service operators being able to make their own decision on what type and style of food service packaging to use based on their and their customer’s needs, the government is dictating to them on what is best for them.
Listen, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not against alternative materials for food service packaging. Far from it. Ask anybody around here and they’ll tell you I’m probably the biggest proponent for our own alternative materials initiatives. I mean who doesn’t want to work to produce products that use annually renewable resources or post consumer recycled content or products that fall into source reduction programs? (Sorry about that blatant pitch for our products, but I’m the one writing this not you). What really gets my goat is when our elected officials attempt to increase their popularity by picking on what they see as an easy target and forcing poorly researched legislation down people’s throats.
The fact is, all that banning foamed polystyrene items in favor of compostable items will do is create problems of a different kind. At the moment our country does not have sufficient numbers of industrial or municipal composting facilities to handle a conversion of this magnitude. Why not find funding to increase the number of these facilities to handle a surge of compostable items first? The alternative is simply compostable items being sent to landfills where they will set for years. Or maybe politicians should stiffen fines against litter bugs and beef up municipal trash collection? It sure seems to me that these types of efforts would greatly reduce litter. And once the proper infrastructure is in place for compostable materials diversion it might make much more sense for food service and restaurant industry operators to explore those types of packaging options like our Harvest items. I don’t know? I’ve rambled on now for some time and it occurs to me the only winner in this whole commentary is that dog. After all, who is carrying whose dooty?