Food Service, Parties and Events: Make a Resolution to Reduce Plastic Waste

By Parul Kharod

This column is generally focused on what we eat. This time we will start the New Year by being introspective about how we serve the food that we eat.

We know that Desis love to party! Every weekend there is some event going on either in a home or a club house or at the temple. When we have a get-together, the main attraction is the food, which is usually served on Styrofoam or plastic plates, with plastic spoons and forks. The used plates, spoons, cups, and napkins are all disposed in multiple plastic garbage bags. If the food is catered – whether via a restaurant or through multiple home based caterers, that food is also brought in disposable containers.

Have you ever thought about how much trash one party generates? Multiply that by the number of parties happening in the area, and multiply that by the number of parties in a year. Multiply that by all the events happening around the world, and we have created mountains of trash!

According to Eco Watch, we currently dump the equivalent of one garbage truck per day into the ocean every minute. And there's enough plastic thrown away to circle the Earth four times.

It's now predicted that by 2025 there will be eight million metric tons of plastic in our oceans, equivalent to 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world. And by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. There is a dire need to make lifestyle changes now to save the planet so our kids can live safely on this planet.

What is Styrofoam and why is it so bad for the health and environment?

• Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic; it is very hard to break down. It is said that it requires more than a million years to decompose!
• The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Toxicology Report have classified styrene as a carcinogen, causing leukemia and lymphoma cancer.
• The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that chronic exposure is harmful to the nervous and respiratory systems and can cause kidney and liver damage.
• Food in Styrofoam containers can be contaminated by chemicals that leach into the food, affecting human health and the reproductive systems. This is worse if people reheat the food in the container itself.
• Benzene is another ingredient used in making Styrofoam, and is also a known carcinogen.
• Another chemical used in making Styrofoam is Dioxene. When Styrofoam is burnt for disposal, Dioxene is released into the environment leading to air pollution and health problems.
• As it is lightweight, it floats, and has created a huge garbage patch in the ocean harming the marine eco-system.
• As Styrofoam is so porous, it absorbs other pollutants and carcinogens, which are then consumed by fish.

How are single-use plastics harmful to the environment?

• They are produced from petroleum chemicals
• Plastics do not biodegrade; instead they slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called micro plastics. Single-use plastics will remain in the oceans for centuries, killing marine life and damaging coral reefs.

What can we do?

Making changes to how you eat, drink and shop will make a big difference.

• Stop using plastic water bottles. Carry your own reusable bottle.
• Pack your own lunch and snacks in reusable containers. Pack your own forks/spoons.
• Carry your own shopping bags and avoid getting plastic shopping bags.
• Carry your own reusable produce bags and avoid getting plastic bags for fruits and vegetables.
• Do not use plastic straws, cling wrap, plastic zipper bags.
• Switch from Keurig/K cups to a coffee maker that uses washable filters.
• Reduce use of packaged foods – especially single serving snack foods.
• Buy fresh and local foods.
• At Events - Ask caterers to provide non-plastic utensils. You may also ask them to provide ceramic plates, glass cups, and glass pitchers.
• If you are planning a party, try to use washable plates or recyclable compostable products.
• At parties, if using paper plates, make sure to stack plates after use to minimize number of trash bags.
• Join 'Zero Waste Lifestyle' groups on Facebook and other social media to get ideas.
• Encourage your children, friends, family and coworkers to reduce the use of plastics.

Community Initiatives

There are some very inspiring initiatives started all over the world. One of such programs is the Bartan Bank. In India, Indore was the first city to implement this service. Every 'Bartan Bank' has more than 3,000 sets of stainless steel utensils/cutlery (plates, bowls, glasses, spoons). So anybody in the area who needs utensils for get-togethers/function/parties can go to the bank and borrow the utensils as per their requirements, completely free of cost. Now such Bartan banks are being opened in several other cities in India. Could we do something similar in our communities?

New Year's Resolution: Let us all take a pledge to reduce use of plastics in our daily lives.

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com