Thursday, November 24, 2011

Household Waste Increases by 25% Over the Holidays

By Rima Mehta

Disposable dinnerware are not often the topic of tabletop conversation till a holiday arrives. And yet these simple objects raise complicated issues concerning environmental impact. To use them or not to use them, that is only one of the questions. While they are quite acceptable for serving large crowds, when dining is outdoors, they are the most practical holiday option as well. They also offer the quickest, easiest cleanup.

As we shop, celebrate, decorate, give gifts and travel this holiday season, we also generate a lot of waste and increase our energy use. The volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day -- from 4 million tons to 5 million tons.

Here are some quick facts on disposables:

• 970 thousand tons of paper cups and plates were discarded in 2003 (EPA). If, we approximate 15 grams weight for each cup or plate, we get 64 billion paper cups and plates being thrown away every year in USA.

• 730 thousand tons of Styrofoam and plastic plates and cups (710 thousand tons were Styrofoam) were disposed in 2003 (EPA). Using 10 grams weight for each cup or plate, we get 73 billion mostly Styrofoam cups and plates being thrown away every year in USA.

• According to EPA statistics, a total of 3,810 thousand tons of plastic containers & bottles were thrown away in 2003. Using a generous number of 20 grams for each container, we get a number of 190 billion plastic containers & bottles being landfilled or incinerated every year.

• The above numbers do not include trash bags, grocery bags and other plastic materials like trays, utensils, clamshells, caps and other plastic packaging. A total of 8000 thousand tons of these items were discarded in 2003.

While, these numbers are alarming and have only increased overtime, there are many simple ways to “green” your holiday season by reducing, reusing and recycling. It takes only a small commitment to protect the environment.

Biodegradable plates and platters are the perfect alternative to traditional throwaway plates that are so popular for parties and any other time of the year. Many are even made of compostable material.

6" Palm Leaf Bowls
The benefits of using biodegradable plates are a lower environmental impact. Unlike, plastic coatings and Styrofoam materials that have the potential to last for centuries. According to the U.S. EPA, 25,000,000,000 foam cups are thrown away every year. Yes, that does say 25 billion in America alone. And that number doesn’t include plates and bowls. The foam cup that could be in your hand today will still be sitting in a landfill somewhere 500 years from now. Those are amazing statistics. Using disposable is easier but it is definitely not greener.

Fortunately, an increasing number of manufacturers are producing "green" paper ware not only from recycled wood products but also from bamboo, bagasse (sugar cane), palm leaves, potato starch and other easily renewable resources. One company that offers a long list of price comparisons for these alternative products is Shop to be Green.

It’s about leaving a legacy, inspiring others to become involved, and making a difference no matter how large or small. Think of the difference we can make by using alternatives.

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