Kill Styrofoam

I love ordering out as much as the next person, but I try to make a conscious effort not to order out from restaurants that use Styrofoam (a trademark of Dow) containers, which makes it difficult. Sometimes I can’t help it, but I try to make the effort at least. But, there is hope for those of us who like to treat ourselves and buy take out once in a while…at least here in Chicago.

The worst part about Styrofoam is that it is not biodegradable! So, the Chinese takeout container you threw away six months ago is still sitting in a landfill somewhere. Also, most municipal recycling programs don’t recycle styrofoam because it is weightless and is worthless as scrap. And then there’s the toxic health issues — Styrofoam is manufactered by using hydroflurocarbons, or HFCs, which has negative impacts on the ozone layer and global warming. According to the United Kingdom Environmental Agency, “The main impact of HFCs on the environment is as greenhouse gases, leading to global warming.”

Also recently the brominated flame retardants used in styrofoam is of concern because some research suggests that these chemicals may have negative environmental and health effects.

In February 2010, City of Chicago Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke , proposed a citywide ban on Styrofoam and other “polystyrene foams” after learning that the Chicago Public Schools throw away more than 35 tons of Styrofoam lunch trays each year. According to a February 10, 2010 Chicago Sun Times article, ” If the City Council approves the ban, violators would face fines ranging of up to $300 for the first offense to $500 for subsequent violations. City Hall would be free to grant exemptions, only if there is “no alternative that is both affordable and ‘compostable.'”

The best suggestion is to reduce and reuse and not use Styrofoam. It may look strange, but take your own “to go” container when going to a restaurant this way you would reduce your carbon footprint and reuse your own containers. The safest and best alternative is to use reusable glass, cermaic or stoneware products, which are washable, definately reusable and do not leach chemicals into your food. If you do need to package your food “to go” there are more alternatives out there now, such as products derived from corn and sugar and paper products. Sure, you may have to pay extra money and make an extra trip to a speciality store such as Whole Foods or order something from online, but, doesn’t it pay off in the long run?

Chicago’s Green Roofs

Thanks to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago surpasses all other United States cities when it comes to green roofs. With over 600 green roofs Chicago is paving the green way for other large cities throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

Green roofs, or rooftop gardens, consist of the following components:

  1. Plants
  2. Growing Material (soil, or specifically engineered material)
  3. Filter Cloth (covers soil, contains plant roots, allows for water penetration)
  4. Drainage Layer
  5. Root Barrier
  6. Waterproofing Membrane (root repelling as well)
  7. Roof deck

According to the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment, “Green roofs improve air quality, conserve energy, reduce storm

Chicagos First Green Roof

Chicago's "First" Green Roof

water runoff and help reduce the urban heat island effect.”

The Chicago City Hall, which was completed in 2001, serves as an example of  a burgeoning green roof in an urban area. This roof was the recipient of the American Society of Landscape Architects 2002 Professional Merit Award, and is currently on average seven degrees cooler than surrounding roofs and as much as 30 degrees cooler in the summer.

In addition to aesthic reasons, there are many benefits for green reasons including energy savings and increase in health. According to http://www.greenroofs.org, other reasons for turning your roof  into a green paradise include:

  • the potential to minimize the size of HVAC equipment on new or retrofitted buildings,
  • the possibility to include cooling and water treatment functions, and
  • savings on energy heating and cooling costs.

So, where are these green roofs? To view a map of Chicago’s green roofs and learn more about green roofs visit http://www.artic.edu/webspaces/greeninitiatives/greenroofs/main_map.htm.