Styrofoam Sustainability

Junior Max McKeown purchases food from Bee’s Style on Sept. 3.

Fayetteville City Council members passed an ordinance, effective Nov. 1, to ban the purchase and distribution of Styrofoam at city-owned venues. Some businesses have started shifting to Styrofoam alternatives months ahead of the deadline.

Ozark Catering Company employees expect to have their final stock of Styrofoam any day, so they can use more compostable products, Chad Coats, Chartwells Director of Dining Services  said in an email.

While city officials look for ways to limit Styrofoam distribution in the city, some restaurant owners still rely on the material.

Floyd Daniels, the director of operations at Fayetteville restaurant Catfish Hole, thinks the use of Styrofoam is cost effective and easy to keep in stock, he said.

Daniels has searched for more sustainable alternatives before, like paper boxes, but they slowed down orders and were more expensive, he said. 

Daniels fears that if city officials were to ban Styrofoam, consumers would ultimately face elevated prices, he said.

Although Styrofoam is not permitted on city lots, there are some exceptions to the ordinance, Fayetteville Director of Sustainability Peter Nierengarten said.

Contractors will still use Styrofoam for purposes related to construction and dock flotation, according to the ordinance.

Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene, accounts for a substantial amount of urban waste that hurts Fayetteville tourism and wildlife, according to an Aug. 2019 policy analysis by Fayetteville officials. Animals can mistake pieces of Styrofoam for food, and the visible waste in waterways and lakes may be unappealing to tourists.

Discarded Styrofoam also presents inherent dangers to the environment, since polystyrene is not biodegradable, which means it cannot naturally decompose, according to the analysis.

Fayetteville Councilwoman Teresa Turk brought the ordinance before the Fayetteville City Council after a similar ban passed in Little Rock, she said. Turk thinks the presence of Styrofoam in the environment costs taxpayers more money over time because of cleanup costs.

Junior Sophie Hill, an Office of Sustainability intern, thinks the Styrofoam ban could produce financial benefits for both businesses and consumers, she said.

“The cost of other products besides Styrofoam are pretty comparable, so if you were to switch to paper, they are both cost-competitive,” Hill said. “I don't think that would be something terrible financially, but food service products don’t impact price a whole lot.” 

Hill thinks one problem with Styrofoam is that most of the time, the wind blows it out of dumpsters before it gets to the landfill, polluting the environment, she said.

Fayetteville officials are encouraging local businesses and organizations, such as the UA Board of Trustees, the Fayetteville School Board and the governing bodies of the Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared, to reduce or cease the use of Styrofoam in their facilities, according to the ordinance.

Zachery Sutherland is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where he has been a staff reporter since February 2019.

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