If you’ve attended Open Circle on Sunday mornings at Lake Chapala Society and are used to getting your morning coffee or tea in Styrofoam cups, you will no longer have that option.
As of January 7, Open Circle’s Steering Committee has decided to “go green” and become 100-percent compostable.
Says Open Circle Program Coordinator, Margaret Van Every: “We will no longer be contributing to the annual waste of 25 billion Styrofoam cups and containers, with their 20-minute’s worth of use, requiring more than a million years to decompose.”
According to Van Every, due to the health risks from toxins and gases released into the environment, fewer recycling centers are accepting Styrofoam. Large-scale recycling of Styrofoam has been banned in many towns and cities, resulting in huge amounts of hazardous accumulation.
“Styrofoam easily breaks into bits,” she says. “Small land and aquatic animals eat these pieces and die from the toxins. Given its porosity, it absorbs many other pollutants, like DDT, in sea water, where much of these pieces end up. When they sink to the seabed, fish eat them and pass them on to humans, who end up consuming them in seafood.”
Styrofoam, the trade name for polystyrene, is a petroleum-based plastic invented by Dow Chemical Company. Styrofoam containers are commonly used for take-out food in Mexico, and chemicals can leach into the food and contaminate it, affecting human health and reproductive systems. This leaching increases significantly with hot liquids.
Once the Open Circle Steering Committee took on the challenge of replacing Styrofoam cups, they didn’t find plastic cups an option since they add to the landfill. Paper cups were cost prohibitive and aren’t easily recyclable.
According to a recent study in the United Kingdom, as many as 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away in the U.K. each year. Because of the difficulty in separating their plastic coating and cardboard to recycle the cardboard, only one in 400 cups is actually recycled.
Says Open Circle Coordinator David Bryen, “Knowing that we had to move ahead for the new year, we realized that Open Circle attendees will either need to bring their own cups or use recyclable ones.”
The Open Circle officers scoured Mexico for reusable cups with lids, without any luck. Their saving grace was Sergio Cruz, the sound tech for the group, who knew someone who could order 14-ounce, plastic reusable cups in volume.
“For those who don’t bring their own cups, reusable ones will be for sale for 30 pesos,” says Bryen. “Our intention is not to make a profit – we simply want to cover our costs. We’ll be encouraging people not to throw them away but to reuse them. Therefore, you won’t see any trash cans by the exit.”
A lakeside local who has given much thought to the Styrofoam/plastic issue is organic gardener Francisco Nava.
“People at Lakeside don’t know what to do with Styrofoam so they throw it away,” he says. “I wash it and use it for other purposes, like adding to pots for planting. Instead of filling a large pot with dirt, I add white plastic milk bottles, then mix in crushed Styrofoam. I top that with a cheese cloth, then add dirt. It works like a charm.”
Nava also encourages folks to bring their own plastic containers to restaurants and markets for take-out purposes, thus avoiding using Styrofoam. This could include yoghurt and berry containers.
One restaurant that has ditched Styrofoam is Huerto Café in Riberas del Pilar. Owner Rocio Meillon uses paper containers, which come from Guadalajara. Her outdoor eatery is an ecological café where diners enjoy healthy veggies directly from her garden. Trying to be an example of living more sustainably, it made sense for Meillon to use recyclable products.
Another restaurant that’s made the switch is Indian Curry in Ajijic’s Centro Laguna Plaza. At the suggestion of one of his customers, owner Inder Singh went from using Styrofoam to washable plastic plates, and is currently looking to replace his Styrofoam sampling plates.
Regarding lakeside’s issue with plastic, Nava says that plastic is being recycled as much as the garbage collectors can separate it and sell to the recycling center at the end of the day. “By separating our recyclables, we are helping both the garbage collectors and, ultimately, the environment.”
Adds Van Every: “Plastic bags were invented by the petroleum industry in the 1970s. Before that, people were using macrame-style string bags. We could go back to using those kind of bags, or cloth bags, as many of us already are.
“Open Circle seems to attract progressive-thinkers, those who want to make a difference,” she continues. “When we discuss ‘going green’ at our weekly events, we get ample applause. Open Circle wants to be a shining example to people, organizations and businesses around Lakeside. We want to inspire them to lean toward environmentally-friendly, reusable products.”
Open Circle takes place Sundays at 10 a.m. at the Lake Chapala Society.