The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the editor:
As Croton moves to ban most plastic bags and charge a fee for Croton merchants using paper bags, it is time to start considering the next steps. Many people already take reusable bags to the grocery store, but we have yet to address a bigger problem: cups, utensils, and packaging.
As we go thru the hottest part of the year, many of us are drinking cold drinks served in single-use plastic cups. There remain many businesses in Croton which do not even provide dedicated plastic recycling containers, but a better question is why we continue to use single-use plastic at all.
Just because a see-thru plastic cup makes your smoothie or iced coffee look better is no reason to allow unnecessary destruction of our environment.
It would be great if Croton businesses stopped using single-use plastic cups this summer. But that is unlikely to happen. The same reasons to ban plastic bags apply to plastic cups as well. Banning single-use plastic cups as part of the plastic bag ban law would be a powerful statement and a big step forward for our environment.
Paper cups are currently only better than plastic on a relative scale. Activist group Action Utah notes that: “here’s what it really takes to make one 16oz paper cup: 33g of wood, 4.1g of petroleum (plus extra for the liner), 1.8g of chemicals, 650 BTU’s of energy and almost a gallon of water. Plus, each cup made creates half a pound of greenhouse gas emissions. And we’re not factoring in those convenient paper sleeves, plastic lids, straws or stirring sticks.”
Most paper cups are lined with a petroleum-based resin that breaks down over many years into tiny plastic particles that enter our soil. Due to the thin plastic lining, they can only be recycled at special facilities, with the result that most paper coffee cups are not recycled. And even the vaunted “waste to energy” incineration method does not do anything to reduce the damage during the manufacture and use of the product. In addition, there can be damage from toxic emissions and residue.
Cups with that nice triangular recycling logo deceive you into believing you are saving the planet. In reality even an environmentally-friendly coffee cup in the U.S. only has at most about 25% recycled material. There are limits to how much recycled material is used in coffee cups due to technological and sanitary reasons.
One partial solution would be to require Croton businesses to use coffee cups and lids with plant-based linings such as polylactic acid (PLA). In theory, such cups would compost if the facility was managed in a way that maintained proper procedures. Composting avoids the traditional problem of plastics which degrade into microplastics.
PLA is being tested by corporations such as Coca-Cola and by the makers of “green” plastic utensils. It is also a favorite of trendy “woke” establishments which tell customers that this new material is environmentally friendly.
Even the “green” PLA cups and utensils require large inputs of energy and chemicals to grow the corn. In addition, most commercially-grown US corn is genetically modified and involves application of toxic pesticides and emission of greenhouse gases.
Before anyone gets excited over plant-based products such as PLA, it should be noted that under current recycling practices PLA might actually reduce recycling. That is because if PLA becomes common, it will get into the recycling stream and get mixed with traditional plastic. When this happens, the resulting recycled plastic can become too weak and the entire recycling batch is useless.
It is worth considering a Croton law to require the use of plant-based utensils and cup linings, but that would require working with Cortlandt to ensure that the recycling facility can process the new plastics. At the present time, even “green” plastics made from plants are not a solution. And there are 2 components to a coffee cup: the plastic lining and the paper exterior of the cup.
Paper manufacture is damaging to the environment, emitting about a quarter-pound of CO2 for a single cup, plus other greenhouse gases. Manufacturing your coffee cup also entails the use of chlorine, sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfur. When the coffee cup degrades, it emits more greenhouse gases including methane. The trees were brought to the factory normally by truck, then the rolls of paper are transported, then the finished cup is transported to a restaurant supply company, and then it is transported to your local deli or coffee shop.
When you get your coffee tomorrow, think about the damage you are doing to the environment by using a single-use paper cup.
The British government has done that, and a parliamentary commission is proposing a 25 pence (about 33 cents) fee for each paper cup with an outright ban on single-use coffee cups after 5 years.
Even the most eco-friendly coffee cup is damaging to our environment and can remain so for decades if not centuries. Banning petroleum-based cup linings altogether and imposing a 25 cent fee on each coffee cup used in Croton would push people into using re-usable coffee cups, just as the plastic bag ban and fee for paper bags will push people into using re-usable bags.
Restaurant packaging is another area where Croton can quickly improve our environment. Styrofoam should be banned. Although Dunkin’ Donuts has said that it is phasing out Styrofoam, there are still some delis and diners that are using this uniquely destructive material. Polystyrene (to use the technical name) is made using harmful chemicals, including benzene and its derivative styrene. Those are both known carcinogens and if you microwave the container it can release toxic chemicals.
It is true that much of the Styrofoam used in restaurants and delis is manufactured overseas, but that just means that someone in a foreign country is getting Parkinson’s or leukemia so that you can have cheap take-out containers.
Environmental damage is a multi-faceted problem which requires a multi-faceted solution. This will be an ongoing process, but Croton needs to start somewhere.
Banning single-use plastic bags, cups, cutlery, straws, and lids is a start. Banning Styrofoam is long overdue in Croton.
Charging a fee for all paper bags, cups, and plates will encourage people to bring re-usable cups and encourage Croton businesses to stop using single-use paper products.