Just as we were getting used to life without plastic bags to carry groceries, we’re losing another convenience item polluting our planet.
As the Honeymooners Marathon starts on Jan. 1, New York State will join Maine, Maryland and Vermont, in banning polystyrene packaging, more commonly known as Styrofoam. Food service providers will no longer be able to package your takeout food in those white clamshell containers. Your local deli won’t provide your morning Joe in a Styrofoam cup either.
But this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Since 2019, most fast-food restaurants have switched to cardboard and stopped using polystyrene altogether. I can’t remember the last time I went to 7-11 and saw anything but a paper coffee cup. We still use those polystyrene plates occasionally in my house, simply because they are cheaper than paper or plastic.
When hosting a big party or BBQ, we usually opt for the smaller 8-oz coffee cups. Of course, they are too small for most people to add their milk or cream. You learn the hard way not to put hot food onto a Styrofoam plate unless you want to leave impressions of hot baked ziti. Give me a plastic plate any day.
Most of us won’t lose sleep if we never see another polystyrene packing “peanut” again. I still find a stray peanut inside my house, even though I haven’t gotten a delivery with those nasty things since the turn of the century. Personally, I prefer plastic bubble wrap. I can’t think of a more satisfying sound than when popping those bubbles.
Apparently, reheating your food in those clamshell containers wasn’t the healthiest thing you could do. Microwaving releases chemicals from the polystyrene containers that attach themselves to the food. Funny, I don’t remember reading anything about that? Those chemicals could cause fatigue, restlessness and skin irritation. And you thought that leftover Fettuccini Alfredo was only going to clog your arteries.
This means restaurants will need to eschew the clamshell in favor of paper packaging for your takeout and take-home food. If you haven’t guessed by now, non-polystyrene containers are going to cost more. Additional restaurant costs are eventually going to be passed onto us. Why-oh-why did they ever get rid of the cute little doggie bags?
Environmentally, polystyrene is a total disaster because it doesn’t completely break down for more than 500 years. The containers break apart easily and get eaten by animals, which will obviously cause them harm. Of course, if animals are eating it and we are eating animals, well, you get the idea.
But we’ll get used to it.
Remember your initial rage at the idea of losing incandescent light bulbs and replacing everything with those LED bulbs? Besides, we still don’t know what the LED watt conversion is for a 60-watt bulb (it’s 15 watts—I looked it up). We just wanted to hate the LED bulbs and hoard incandescent bulbs. But, after a while, we just forgot about it and moved on.
I can’t tell you how often I had to buy a reusable bag while shopping because I left mine in the car or at home. I now have more reusable bags than I ever had plastic bags. At least plastic bags had so many other uses. But, like anything else, you eventually get used to it. Now it’s a novelty if you get one of those bags. When my Chinese food came in a paper bag inside a plastic bag last week, we were so happy to see one; it went into my safe deposit box.
Unfortunately, polystyrene is not going the way of the dodo bird. Supermarkets can still use it for packaging meats, so at least the meat wrappers of the world will still have jobs.
By reducing the amount of polystyrene in the world (or at least New York State), our children may have a healthier life in the future. But they’ll never know the pure joy of watching a Styrofoam plate melting in a campfire.
Paul DiSclafani’s new book, A View From The Bench, is a collection of his favorite Long Island Living columns. It’s available wherever books are sold.