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Conservation Corner: Recycling single-use containers won’t solve planet’s problem – Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN — For the past few years, we’ve been reminded how plastics, especially single-use plastics, are bad for the environment.

They have trashed our oceans and killed wildlife. They are everywhere: from our cars, to our clothes, to takeout containers, and they even find their way into human tissue by way of the food we eat! According to the EPA, much of the nation’s plastic isn’t being recycled. It’s either buried or burned, or ends up in our oceans.

Middletown is known for its wonderful restaurants. We have a diversity of food choices, from small eateries to upscale restaurants. It’s a destination for many hungry visitors, but how many restaurants are using single-use plastics?


During the pandemic, I opted for takeout a few times to support some of our local businesses. Sadly, I found my food in nonrecyclable and Styrofoam takeout containers. Neither were made from recycled materials. All the processing, packaging and distribution of my single-use plastic takeout containers was made to move my lunch about a mile.

I’ll try to find a way to reuse this plastic again once or twice, but I’m incredibly concerned about what all these single-use plastic containers are doing to our planet.

Some restaurants are beginning to use plant-based, compostable takeout containers, which may be made more sustainably, but are still difficult to dispose of properly.

While “compostable” containers can be better than single-use plastics, they have limitations. They are made from sugarcane, corn and/or bamboo, and are marketed as “compostable materials.” However, you can’t throw them in your backyard compost and expect them to decompose, and in some cases, these products contain small amounts of plastic, which means they can’t be recycled.

Even if they are certified as being 100 percent compostable, collection services and an industrial composting facility must be in close proximity to manage these special materials. In addition, the life cycle of some of these compostables can result in even higher environmental impacts than plastic itself, based on source materials, packaging, production and logistics.

What’s the answer?

One thing is for certain. Recycling single-use containers won’t solve our problem. We need to focus on refusing, reducing and reusing. It is estimated we throw away 50 billion paper coffee cups a year in America alone, and most paper cups can’t be recycled because they can also contain plastic!

Some municipalities are starting to ask restaurants and coffee shops to encourage “bring your own mug/container” for takeout beverages and meals.

Another positive trend are companies that provide reusable takeout containers for restaurants and other establishments. The containers are then returned, cleaned, sanitized and used again. Examples include GoBox, Green Grub Box and Rogue To Go with more popping up across the country. Unfortunately, none are currently offering this service in our area.

A Colorado company, Vessel, states that its goal is to “positively disrupt the disposables industry” by offering a first-of-its kind reusable cup service. This program is part of a city-mandated shift away from single-use and throwaway culture. The city will require certified compostable foodware on offer, and, using a disposable cup will add an extra 25 cents to the bill.

We do have some restaurants in Middletown that are already making efforts to become more sustainable with respect to plastics. Perk on Main provides compostable containers and has taken the extra step of paying more to ensure these containers are actually composted, working with an industrial compost facility that can accept these items. They also don’t sell water in single-use plastic bottles; instead they have a water dispenser for customers.

In addition, Perk on Main is looking into offering reusable takeout containers.

Mondo Pizza has replaced single-use plastic water bottles with water in cartons. While it would be better to use water out of your own bottle, these cartons are a step in the right direction. They cost a little more than plastic, but are much better for the planet.

I’d love to see more eateries take a stand against single-use plastic takeout containers and water sold in plastic bottles.

How to help the effort

Keep flatware in your car or bag so you don’t need to use plastic single-use flatware.

Bring your own take-out container with you. It might feel odd at first, but you’ll not only be doing good, but you’ll also be setting a good example for everyone around you.

Use your own coffee mugs.

Ask local restaurants to refrain from automatically offering single-use items. Customers should have to request them only if needed!

It’s our responsibility to the next generation to change our behavior and do better.

Judy Konopka is a member of the

Middletown Conservation and Agriculture Committee.

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