We love the city for getting bad-ass about in-store packaging reduction. But ditching paper cups for polystyrene foam is just stupid after all the hard work enviros did in the 80s to purge polluting polystyrene from fast food outlets.
Before we wake up with a foam hangover, regulators might want to consider a few things.
DON'T BOLSTER IT, BAN IT
We've got to yank polystyrene (aka styrofoam) from restaurants, not lay out a welcome mat for it.
STICK WITH PAPER - FOR NOW:
Paper's not the takeout dream solution, but it's better than chem- and carbon-footprint-heavy polystyrene. The real prize is reusable cups and containers. So let's focus on getting them out there.
OFF WITH THEIR LIDS
The city says paper cups can't be recycled because clueless coffee swillers leave their lids on when tossing them. Let's at least try slapping giant "Please Remove Lids Before Recycling" signs in coffee shops as well as on the cups and lids themselves before we ban an option that has the best chance of biodegrading before we die. Polystyrene will live an eternity in landfill after it's downcycled once.
YOU SELL IT, YOU RECYCLE IT
If food and beverage containers are going to have a chance in hell of being recycled, city licences shouldn't be bestowed unless outlets handing out disposable food packages have composting and recycling bins. That means everyone from donut-selling gas stations to pizza joints should have clearly labelled blue and green bins.
BOOST STREETSIDE RECYCLING AND COMPOSTING
Most on-the-go food containers get tossed - go figure - on the go. But we just can't seem to put our trash in the right slot. Our streetside recycling bins should be way more clearly organized to make it easier for rushed Torontonians to toss it in the right hole. And, yes, we know public green composting bins are only supposed to hit the streets after condos and apartments are on board, which means you shouldn't hold your breath.
COOPERATION MAKES IT HAPPEN:
We need a binding province-wide industry-government agreement on takeout containers akin to last year's deal on plastic bag use. That means we need to see the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, packagers and others agree to the following:
• Reduce single-use takeout containers by 50 per cent (even the recyclable kind) by 2012. No pussyfooting around here.
• Offer reusable takeout containers to consumers at a discounted rate.
• Just as the grocers of the province agreed to the front-end retraining of employees to do things like pack more items in one bag, takeout joints have to agree to retrain employees to ask patrons: 1) "Would you like that for here?" (in which case they'd serve coffee in a ceramic mug and food on a washable plate); and 2) "Do you have a reusable container with you?"
• Increase the amount of recycled content in reusable and non-reusable food containers from zero to, well, greater than zero. How 'bout 20 per cent for starters? Starbucks may only have 10 per cent recycled content in its cups, but that saves 5 million pounds of virgin tree fibre from facing the axe every year.
• Ontario's Enviro Ministry, along with the city, should fund a mass education campaign around all of the above.
BRAVE NEW CUP:
Yes, reusable mugs should be promoted above all else (especially recyclable ones like stainless steel.) But we've clearly got to overhaul disposable options as we know them. So paper cups with plastic lids are causing problems because recyclers don't want to sit there removing all the damn lids? We need some R&D funds allocated to making a paper lid to match that paper cup.
Hell, a reusable lid people can keep in their back pocket or purse for all those times they forget their reusable mug would do, too.
We also need research on making 100 per cent recycled paper cups that aren't coated with petroleum-based wax (as they are now) or food-crop-based plastic (like the corn-based liners on existing green paper cups), both of which face sustainability challenges. If people are currently making plastics out of potato waste and orange peels, why can't we seal paper takeout products with this stuff? No doubt if Tim Hortons and Starbucks were on deadline to create the world's greenest cups, solutions would percolate to the surface.
And in terms of biodegradable plastic options, these have to come not from pesticide-laden food crops like corn but from agricultural waste, so we can get a little reducing and reusing going on. Of course, we also have to have industrial composters that take them (unlike T.O.'s green bin system.) Otherwise, they'll rot in landfill just like last night's Chinese takeout containers. And that doesn't do us or the planet any good.