Take Out the Plastic and Kill It

06/06/2007 12:00 AM |

It’s iced-coffee season again, a very important time for me. Black, with soy milk and sugar, whatever, just keep the cold coffees coming and I’m happy. But sadly, this year’s coffee blitz has brought with it some revelations. Like straws. Yeah, those plastic straws that come with every drink, each place I go. Those straws have led me to a place where all I see is plastic being thrown out everywhere, polluting the environment for millennia to come. I try to ask for drinks without straws. I bring my own. Nothing staunches the flow.

I’ve long been a re-user of cups — when I don’t remember to bring my own metal cup from home, I’ll break down and take a plastic cup from my local coffee bar. When it’s empty, I throw it in my bag, rinse it out at home and throw it back in the bag, ready for tomorrow’s caffeine quest. The folks at most coffee places are happier refilling a “disposable” cup than my oddly suspect stainless steel beaker; the plastic’s much lighter and easier to carry around, and the size usually corresponds with the sizes on offer. Some places, like Williamsburg’s Verb Café and Kudo Beans on First Avenue, have very fair “refill” prices if you bring your own cup: considering that the cup always costs more than what you put in it, they save money, so you save money, and we’re all happier about one fewer cup.

But what about all the rest of the plastic that comes with, on, and around our food and drink? The damn stuff is everywhere, and as I’ve reported already, it’s bad for us. Bisphenol A, found in polycarbonate (a kind of plastic used in baby bottles and the linings of tin cans, among other things) may be a hormone and endocrine disrupter, and traces have been found in the bodies of nearly all Americans tested for it. The L.A. Times reported several months ago that the company contracted by los Federales to determine the safety or danger of bisphenol A is a private one, with extensive ties to the very companies that manufacture the stuff.

But even if it’s not bad for us (yeah, right!) The stuff lasts forever. FOREVER. Call me crazy, but I’ve gotten to a point where I look at a plastic container and just can’t justify its production — and its 1000+ year lifespan — as a solution to my need for dinner. There is an area in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas, where several currents converge, that is filled with pieces of plastic from shipping and coastal waste.  A giant floating Sargasso mat of plastic bits — the size of TEXAS. That’s just wrong.

Mr. Conscientious Objector (no, not really Al Gore) and I have been cutting back on our takeout consumption because we just can’t stomach the non-biodegradable waste: a meal for two seems to be more packaging than food most of the time. An intrepid reader of this column pointed out that he actually washes and takes back his plastic boxes — for use on his own orders, of course. I’ve tried it a few times, and after the initial confusion (the lady at my local Thai joint thought I was just giving it back, like a gift, for her own personal use. She was very polite, and thanked me profusely, all the while thinking, I’m sure, that I was a crazy old bag), I’ve enjoyed waste-free Pad Thai, carried home in my own cotton bag.

But we don’t all have the time, or energy, to go drop off the dishes before dinner; the chief joy of takeout is the ease with which it appears on your doorstep on those nights you’re too tired to

There is an area
in the Pacific Ocean the size

of Texas that is filled with
pieces of plastic waste.

leave the house. There is, of course an alternative. At biodegradablestore.com I found a complete line of biodegradeable, compostable takeout containers. Everything from little sauce dishes to cold drink cups, to straws. It’s more than I could have imagined, and the prices don’t seem too out of line with what plastic costs — the compostable straws are actually cheaper than plastic.

So go to your favorite takeout joint, and tell them to switch to compostable. Buy them a case of corn straws. Tell them you’ll order takeout more often if they switch. And tell them to put up a sign, to tell all their customers — I’d bet good money they’ll get back in goodwill and business ten times what they put out in cash.