SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2012                                                                                  VOLUME 128, NO. 4.

editor's note...

Alternative Measures

by John O'Brien, Managing Editor

A decade ago I never would have thought the environmental lobby would be pushing for, among other things, a return to paper products. It may be that the alternatives in place today are simply more of a problem for the environment than their paper-based counterparts, and it just might be that the industryís growing voice to educate consumers about the stuff it makes is finally getting through.

Take for example foam cups. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 25 billion plastic foam cups a year, and each one would take more than 500 years to break down.

In the town of Brookline, Mass., voters this November will decide on whether or not the town will ban local businesses from using foam cups and containers. Although Brookline hasnít mandated the use of a specific alternative, I would have to imagine coffee shops would have to switch to paper cups and restaurants would have to opt for paper-based ďto-goĒ containers.

Itís the polystyrene foam that everyone is up in arms about, and not just in Brookline.

Portland, Oregonís City Council in June voted unanimously to direct its Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee to create an ordinance to ban sales of plastic foam. The council would have to approve the ordinance before it could take effect. The Portland City Councilor who sponsored the initiative said the proposal was inspired by Portlandís school district, which in September stopped using foam trays, cups and containers in its cafeterias.

In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second biggest school district in the nation, during the last week in August announced a plastic foam ban on all products throughout the district. The decision was prompted by school kids in an Environmental Studies Magnet program at a Los Angeles-area middle school who constructed a foam ďmonsterĒ from the roughly 1,500 foam lunch trays that are thrown away on a typical day.

After three years of pushing parents to help and lobbying to members of the school committee, the kidsí efforts convinced the LAUSD to make a change, and the District is switching to paper-based lunch trays.

Itís worth noting that LAUSD uses about 40 million trays per year, and not only are the new trays recyclable, but each paper tray is about 3 to 4 cents cheaper than the foam version, and results in the district saving about $5 million to $6 million.

The list of towns and cities considering bans on plastic foam is long and growing, but you get the picture.

Iím going to stop here for a second to state that Iím not a fan of local government bans on things, but Iím going to leave politics out of this discussion.

The point Iím trying to convey is that there are opportunities opening up for the paper industry as todayís society takes environmental consciousness to a higher level.

Whether itís replacing billions of foam cups, containers and trays with recyclable paper alternatives or continually reinforcing to consumers the fact that paper is truly a sustainable product, the paper industry has to show that its products are a better way forward.

If a group of school kids can do it . . .

John O'Brien can be reached at: jobrien@paperage.com

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