For food service locations where the food is consumed on the premises, washing and reuse of dishes and utensils is often less expensive, and certainly less wasteful, than purchase and disposal of single-use food containers and utensils.
Expanded polystyrene foam (one trade name is Styrofoam®), which is frequently used for single-use food and beverage containers, is made from petroleum, occupies significant space in landfills, is not compostable or biodegradable when released into the environment, and produces styrene gas, a neurotoxin, when incinerated. It also tends to break up in the environment into small pieces that can choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Recycling of polystyrene food service ware is rare.
Because of the deleterious effects of polystyrene foam, several local governments have restricted its use and some restaurants and fast food retailers are switching to food containers made from recycled/recyclable cardboard, recycled and unbleached paper, plant-based plastics, bagasse, kenaf or hemp.
Where single-use food service supplies are required, the most environmentally desirable alternative is use of compostable products that can be collected along with food waste and sent to an approved composting facility. Composting, which is increasing in popularity and practice, is an excellent process of keeping food waste out of landfills by converting it into a useful soil amendment (compost). Compostable items will not turn into compost in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill. They need oxygen to decompose and should be on the Cedar Grove Commercially Accepted Items List (Cedar Grove Composting in Washington State tests the compostability of items related to food service or yard waste) or comply with Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), ASTM D6400, or ASTM D6868 standards.
Only 5.1% of food waste was recycled in Maryland in 2010, and 13.1% in 2011. A key element of Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)’s Zero Waste Strategy 2030 is expected to be increasing the composting of food waste. In support of this goal, state agencies are encouraged to eliminate disposable food service supplies and/or implement organics recycling, including the use of compostable materials.
The list of products certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is available here:
A list of items accepted by Cedar Grove is available here:
Environmentally Preferable Disposable Food Service Supplies Specification
301 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201