Wrap It Up…Not So Fast!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

In our everyday day lives, we pride ourselves in doing everything faster, better, and more efficiently. However what has become convenient has also resulted in some unforeseen costs. In this case, I’m thinking about fast food and, especially, fast food packaging.

Whether at work or play, we encourage everyone to eat their food in reusable utensils and if possible aim for a waste free lunch. However, the truth is having a sit down meal at home is not always possible. When it comes to eating, frequently we just look for the nearest fast food restaurant, carryout or drive thru. And then we dispose of the waste in the nearest trash can. While I can see using our reusable mugs at the local coffee shop, taking reusable plates to a drive thru may not be practical for most people.

Some might have noticed that not so long ago, most of the common fast food chains used polystyrene foam (AKA Styrofoam) and non-environmentally friendly packaging to serve and wrap food and beverages. In recent years, responding to popular pressure, some companies are adopting waste reduction measures and using biodegradable packaging. More and more companies are actively engaged in the redesign of sustainable packaging. In fact, EPA is a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a group of industry professionals formed in 2004. This broad coalition goes beyond the food packing industry. It provides a framework for collaborating on various sustainable packaging issues in order to reduce the environmental footprint of packaging. Bear in mind that the environmental impacts of packaging go beyond what enters the waste stream. There are energy impacts and associated greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of the life cycle of each product from extraction and acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing of raw materials into products, the actual product used by consumers and ultimately, product disposal.

EPA’s WasteWise partnership program also highlights success stories in the areas of food processing and packaging as well as the beverage industry.

So, if you’re seeking more information on the environmental sustainability techniques used by your favorite restaurant or nearest fast food establishment, you can visit Earth911.com for a Restaurant Report Card. Above all—get involved. You can make a difference in encouraging many industries and the general public to become more environmentally sustainable.

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