Going greener: Reid café implements additional environmentally friendly program

The Reid Health Café at Twelve Hundred, already known for efforts to be environmentally friendly, is now even “greener.”

The café recently replaced plastic and polystyrene foam products with more sustainable and “compostable” goods. The effort will eliminate the use of more than a million foam cups, half a million foam bowls and plates and almost 150,000 take-out containers used annually in the café. “The new wares utilize less energy and water during manufacturing than the alternatives, and do not release toxic residues into the soil during composition,” says Kris Ankeny, director of Food & Nutrition Services at Reid Health.

“Compostables” is a term that is regulated by the American Society of Testing and Materials and is defined as a manufactured item that can degrade within 90 days into organic and inorganic materials without releasing toxic residues during the process, Ankeny says.

The new products being used in the café include cups that look to be plastic, but are made of a combination of potato or cornstarch polymers, wheat straw, sugarcane, recycled paper and other plant-based resins. “These products, which are virtually nontoxic upon decomposition, offer a significantly reduced degradation timeframe than their traditional counterparts and thus impose a negligible burden on local landfills.”

Ankeny noted the following about some of the traditional materials and their decomposition rates:

— Aluminum cans – 175 years

— Hard plastic bottle caps – more than 400 years

— Polystyrene foam – more than 500 years

The compostable products are starkly better:

— Clear cups and silverware made from plant resins – two to four months in commercial facilities or one to two years at home

— Wheat straw take-out containers and plates – two to three months in commercial facilities, up to six months at home

— Paper hot cups and bowls – two to three months in commercial facilities, from three to 12 months at home

“The sustainable changes made by Reid Health seek to preserve the integrity of tomorrow now by eliminating waste that could ultimately disrupt the lives of the Reid community,” Ankeny says.

The latest change is the newest of several recycling and sustainability efforts implemented by the Food & Nutrition Services department. The department participates in a Food Rescue program that reduces waste and contributes to a reduction in community food insecurity; collects plastic bottle caps in a partnership with Cope Environmental Center that recycles the plastic into other uses; and will soon offer a re-usable lidded cup and straw, which will continue to reduce single-use items.