The Chili Cookoff does lots of good for the underprivileged in our community. Not so much for the good earth now overwhelmed by too much trash.
I spent three full days at this year’s charity fest. Despite all the tempting taste treats on sale there, I ended up fasting. With a couple of exceptions, nearly all of food vendors were serving stuff in nasty white foam cups, plates and carry-out containers that took away my appetite.
It’s a cheap plastic material called polystyrene with qualities that efficiently hold heat or cold in food and beverages. In Mexico it’s commonly known as hielo seco (dry ice) or unicel. English-speakers often call it Styrofoam, a misnomer because that’s actually a registered trademark for a Dow Chemical product principally used to insulate buildings and keep docks afloat.
Beyond the semantics, polystyrene is notoriously bad for the planet. Those single-use coffee cups, plates and boxes don’t just go away after you toss them in the trash. The foamy items cannot be recycled. Accumulated in landfills, they release methane gas with awesome ozone destroying potency as they slowly deteriorate over centuries.
Easily picked up by the wind, rogue polystyrene debris litters streets and beaches, clogs storm pipes, and harms innocent wildlife. Styrene, one of its components, is a classified as carcinogenic chemical that can leech into food and drink. So it’s bad for human health as well.
Ponder this stat for a moment. By some calculations, the amount of polystyrene cups used each year in the U.S. alone could be stretched out over 18 million miles, enough to circle the Earth 426 times. The figures for Mexico, where unicel is vastly popular for its low coast, might be even worse.
Now think about the heaps of other wastes left in the trail of the cookoff where there were no provisions for separating aluminum cans and plastic bottles suitable for recycling and organic refuse apt for composting.
It would be unfair to single out this one event for offenses against the growing Green movement. The lakeside calendar is chock full of happenings that ignore the trend towards better stewardship of the environment.
On the other hand, it’s heartening to see that a quite a few lakeside restaurants have started using biodegradable straws and “doggy bag” cartons. Some local stores have stopped giving away plastic grocery bags. I’ve observed more and more shoppers carrying multiple use totes for haul off their purchases.
But not everyone has come aboard in that respect. More than once I’ve been in the supermarket check-out line behind well-known foreign caterers who load up their carts with dozens of plastic bags filled with merchandise. Honestly, that’s a shameful practice for such big time consumers who should know better.
It behooves every one of us to take stock of everything we throw into the waste bin and bag up for our garbage collectors. Reject, reduce, reuse and recycle.