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    Posted December 13, 2008 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Save the planet

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    To-Stay or To-Go

    Not only did you order your Pad Thai to-go, you also ordered cartons, cups, plastic utensils, napkins, condiments in tidy little packets and a plastic bag in which to haul your spoils home. But those plastic and plastic foam disposables are not the prize they might seem. Sure, they're amazingly convenient, but the majority of these ubiquitous containers and bags are petroleum-based. Products made of this increasingly scarce (and expensive) resource are toxic to produce, transport and dispose of. That takeout tray you're eating from can sit in the ground for hundreds of years. As it breaks down, toxic residues from the containers leach into the soil and find their way into our groundwater. Disposable containers are not only unsightly and potentially harmful to humans, they also pose a grave danger to wildlife. It doesn't have to be this way. There are eco-friendly, disposable wares made of corn and sugar that are both biodegradable and compostable, which is even better than drinking from innocuous-looking paper cups lined with petroleum. There is one catch: Being green takes more greenbacks. That's why America needs business owners like Dan Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal, who owns several Chicago restaurants, saw the need for a green co-op that would use its buying power to negotiate better prices on eco-friendly products for local restaurants. More than 80 Chicago-area eateries have signed on. (For more information, visit http://www.buygreenchicago.org/.) "Restaurants that are serious about helping the environment can take two great first steps," Mr. Rosenthal said. The first is recycling cardboard. This easy step can cut restaurant waste by 50 percent. Recycling can divert cardboard from landfills and help reduce a company's total waste disposal costs. Depending upon the market, businesses might even make a profit on the sale of cardboard. The second step is eliminating troublesome plastic foam, No. 6 polystyrene, a common material used for coffee cups, soup bowls, salad boxes, clamshell containers and school lunch trays. That's where a green co-op among restaurants would come in. If one restaurant steps up to the dinner plate as the green leader, others will follow. The buying power of a consortium of restaurants will be much more cost-effective. Imagine the impact if half of our restaurants made these two changes. Until our eateries make changes, however, perhaps we can BYOC. Bringing our own containers for drinks or leftovers will be a small respite for an immense problem, but it will be better for our health and our conscience. Our children will learn from our example, and their future may be greener. The next time you order takeout, be sure to tell the restaurant manager that you prefer your containers in the eco-friendly variety.
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