The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
October 10, 2013

Plastic in Austin Hotels and Restaurants

Tuesday morning, I met up with Daniella Russo, executive director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, for breakfast at her hotel, the Hyatt Place near the Austin Convention Center.  Here’s a photo of Daniella’s breakfast:

Daniella-breakfast-Hyatt-Austin

From a distance, the dishes look like ceramic and glass, right? Nope. All plastic. Even the mug meant to hold hot coffee… plastic.

We were grumbling about how tacky it is for the Hyatt, of all places, to use plastic dishes.  So I decided that the next morning I would check out the breakfast at my hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites, a Hilton property, right next door.

Guess what. It was worse!

image

Everything was disposable. Plastic utensils. Paper cups. (Paper coffee cups not shown.) And Styrofoam plates and bowls!  All this to be consumed in the very nice hotel dining area.  I was appalled.

Add a healthy portion of greenwashing

The plate and bowl were wheat colored, and the utensils were cream-colored instead of white.  So I thought, before I got my panties in a bunch, I would see if they were at least compostable. I turned over the plate and saw “Enviroware” stamped on it. So I looked up Enviroware on the web.

Check out the product info sheet:

http://www.dwfinepack.com/wp-content/uploads/DW_Enviroware_2013.pdf

The dishes are expanded polystyrene foam (like Styrofoam) and the utensils are polystyrene without air blown into it. What makes them “enviro” is this:

“enviroware is manufactured with an active organic catalyst (AOC) developed to accelerate the degradation rate”

So they break down faster. They’re just as toxic. (Styrene is a known carcinogen.)  But they’ll break down into tiny pieces into the environment faster. And they’re dyed wheat colored to make them look eco-friendly. Ugh. I think my hotel wins first place in the tackiest breakfastware category.   At least the Hyatt’s dishes are reusable, even if they are leaching toxic chemicals into hot coffee.

Polystyrene Foam in Austin

I saw polystyrene foam foodware everywhere I went on this trip.  I was able to avoid it by bringing my own container for leftovers and even being a bit creative. At the Cafe Crepe restaurant on the corner of my hotel, I told the waiter I was staying at the hotel and wanted a dessert crepe to take to my room but didn’t want it in a Styrofoam container. I asked if I could take it to go on one of their reusable plates and bring it back when I was done.  The waiter said, sure. He even seemed happy that I wanted to do that.

(By the way, did you know that Styrofoam plates and red Solo cups are made from the same kind of plastic?  They are both #6 polystyrene, it’s just that the plates have had air blown into them to make them foam up.)

Contact the City Council

This morning, I spoke with Robin Schneider, the executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.  She told me that they would love to get the polystyrene foam out of Austin.  If you live in Austin and would like to ask the city to ban polystyrene foam foodware, please contact all of the members of the City Council.  Here is an easy link to use to contact them:  http://www.austintexas.gov/mail/all-council-members.

You might mention to them that even McDonald’s has recently ditched Styrofoam.

And to help them learn more about how to help restaurants transition away from foam, refer them to the information pages of several cities in California that have banned polystyrene foodware.

 

 

 

26 comments
Alison Marie
Alison Marie

Hello Beth -- I am wondering if you have any resources to point us to, that provides some good information like a card or something we could present to restaurant managers that are still using styrofoam in particular?  If you don't, I may create one --but I thought I would ask first.  Thx!

Not sure if you will see this, but also thank you for all the great information and for your book!  

Amy Shepard
Amy Shepard

I love what you are doing! THANK YOU!

Sirisha Kuchibhotla
Sirisha Kuchibhotla

hi I loved ur website and congratulations on ur initiative. totally inspiring. I am from a South Indian City and we are facing waste disposal problem. landfills are full and the locals oppose anymore dumping. so now we are burning all waste in our neighborhood including plastic. I have to carry the wet garbage/ organic waste to a nearby park n discard it. it is set to fire late in the night. Can u suggest any alternatives. I cut off all packaged food products including milk. but to dispose organic wet waste i use a plastic cover.. which i do not want to burn. Please advice.

sirisha
sirisha

hi I loved ur website and congratulations on ur initiative. totally inspiring. I am from an South Indian City and we are facing waste disposal problem. landfills are full and the locals oppose dumping. so now we are burning all waste in our neighborhood including plastic. I have to carry the wet garbage and organic waste to a nearby park n discard it. it is set to fire late in the night. Can u suggest any alternatives. I cut off all packaged food products including milk. but to dispose organic wet wate i use a platic cover.. which i donot want to burn. Please help.

Margaret D
Margaret D

The fact that plastic is so harmful to our environment should be enough motivation to get rid of it, but eating food stored and served in plastic is bad for our health. I have problems with environmental allergies, and some types of plastic (the clear, brittle type that bottled water is sold in, and which is also used widely in the food industry) will make me horribly itchy if I eat foods that have been stored in it. That's enough, right there, to demonstrate that something is leaching out of the plastic into the food. In my experience, foods that are acidic (like cheese or fruit), foods that are hot, and foods that are stored for longer periods of time in this type of plastic absorb the most of whatever toxin in the plastic give me the allergic reaction. It's my guess that other types of plastic also leach chemicals into food. But with the exception of Bisphenol A (from plastic can liners and other things), no one appears to have analyzed these plastics to find out what leaches out of them and what the health effects are.

Sarah
Sarah

I stay at the Courtyard every week. The reusable glasses are wrapped in plastic. I can only imagine it is to ensure they are sanitary. In other places, there is usually a paper cover over the top of them. I don't know why some places wrap them in plastic instead...how can we go about changing this?

Mary of Santa Cruz
Mary of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz County was missing from the list. of cities that ban polystyrene foam. They have banned it since 2008 and now bann single use plastic bags since 2012. Also SC County has been recycling styrofoam on a small scale with the waste to waves program  (turns styrofoam into surfboards) and UCSC has a program to recycle/repurpose it at the beginning of each school year when students arrive awash in foam packaging. Come on Austin, get on board!


Andrew Dobbs
Andrew Dobbs

We are blessed with some pretty open-minded folks. We are also a destination town, and we want to maintain a good rep with our visitors. If folks said "I came to Austin and was upset with so much styrofoam" it will have an impact.

abzarndt
abzarndt

I don't travel and stay in hotels a lot, but the rare times I do I have noticed the poor choices for serving the hotel's "complimentary continental breakfast."  I often choose to forgo them to search out better food elsewhere, and also because of the yucky disposables.  I am sure that they do this because they are trying to streamline the process as much as possible meaning that they want one person to be able to quickly set up an easy breakfast and have minimal clean-up.  In smaller motels/hotels that person is often the same person that is on the front desk at that time.  The last time I was in a name-brand hotel and encountered styrofoam plates I did take the opportunity to go to their website and fill out a feedback form and suggest they look into better alternatives. 

Cheryl
Cheryl

You go, girl!!  I read your book and have been reading your blog diligently.  I'm trying my best to reduce my household use of plastics, but boy, oh boy, it's not easy, given what's available at my local supermarket.  I'm always betting great tips from you and at least taking baby step efforts.  I'm now going to carry a reusable container for restaurant leftovers so as to avoid the styrofoam take-home trays.  I love that idea!!!  

KatherinEdwards
KatherinEdwards

I love reading your blogs, Beth. I learn so much. Thank you!


My Plastic-free Life
My Plastic-free Life

Andrew, I chatted with Robin Schneider this morning, and she also gave me that link to include in my post. So you're saying it's worth it for people who don't live in Austin to write to them? Will they listen to us if we're not voters?

Clif
Clif

In the WSJ today there was an article about the shipment of coffee beans changing over from bags made of burlap, sisal, henequen, or jute in favor of "lined cargo containers" woven of plastic. I read through the piece and there wasn't a single mention of plastic as an environmental concern.

It's quite a challenge to do as you do and switch back to non-plastic containers, far easier to simply stay with a non-plastic item that has been in use "for hundreds of years" as the article says. But no.

I think we should all have a kind of lava-light in our homes, but instead of the colored glop of the traditional lava-light, it would have hundreds of multi-colored bits of plastic all lazily circulating before our eyes, and it would be called the WGACA (wuh-gah-cah) Light (What Goes Around Comes Around).

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

I might just be suggesting that. What can I do to help?

Suzanne Meyer
Suzanne Meyer

Using disposable dishes and utensils is a crime itself, but maybe the reasoning behind that decision, not hiring people to clean up and wash the dishes is the motivation behind that decision, $$$$$$$$, always find a cheaper way.

v
v

I've noticed this as an increasing trend at even slightly more expensive hotels. I'll always request a real mug when there isn't one provided in my room, but have been told several times lately that they don't have any available in the hotel. Garbage issues aside, polystyrene just feels gross to drink from and I find it makes the hotel feel junky. Like Carol, I always note it on Tripadvisor.

I'd love to see bigger campaigns going after the major hotel chains to get them to change this.

Carol Henshaw
Carol Henshaw

we recently travelled on Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. Many of the hotels our tour operator had booked us into were Best Western or La Quinta Inns. I was horrified to find that breakfast was provided in polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups, bowls and plates with plastic cutlery, all of which ended up in the trash can. I made sure this was highlighted in my Tripadvisor ratings. 

Andrew Dobbs
Andrew Dobbs

Are you saying that maybe TCE should work to ban styrofoam in Austin? I think we might just agree with you...

OnGreen GoSolutions
OnGreen GoSolutions

Just call ON GREEN GO SOLUTIONS and we will help replace plastic with certified BPI 100% biodegradable, compostable with sustainable plant fiber containers.

conniehealth
conniehealth

I agree Robin. Lets get this out there.  Thank you Beth for taking a stand for Austin on this. I met you at the Eco conference and I want to let you know you are the one that started me on this journey to get rid of plastic and Styrene. Attending the conference has inspired me to do as much and be a leader and take things head on to make a difference on the planet.

Robin Schneider
Robin Schneider

Everyone should contact the Austin City Council about this issue and encourage them to take up the issue. You don't have to be an Austin resident to make your opinions known. The styrofoam used in Austin affects all residents of Planet Earth!

jonnie
jonnie

Pennywise, pound foolish!

Cheap for the hotels, devastatingly expensive for the environment.

Alison Marie
Alison Marie

@Sirisha Kuchibhotla -- sorry to hear of what is happening there in India, it is not healthy to be breathing that air at night!  I wonder if your city's leaders would be open to a municipal composting facility of some kind - with composting, it need not be an expensive facility, just appropriately done. People could bring their compostable material in reusable buckets.  That is the only thing I can think of that might help -- from my travels I know that recycling is a problem in many parts of the world (including in the u.s.a. where it is very commonly put in landfills because it is cheaper for companies to buy new raw material) - and it (recycling) does require expensive facilities. Somehow there needs to be education and reducing our dependency on plastic - this is true in every single country. Our grandparents never had it, so there has to be a way.  good luck to you!