Single-use polystyrene can't be recycled and may cause cancer

Single-use polystyrene—better known by the brand name Styrofoam—will disappear from the North Market April 1, following a vote by the market’s board of directors this week banning vendors from using the substance. By taking this action, the North Market is joining a nationwide repudiation of the foamy container material, which in recent years has been banned in New York, Washington, DC, Seattle, Miami Beach, Minneapolis and Los Angeles County—just to name a few.

North Market executive director Rick Harrison Wolfe, who moved to Columbus four years ago from Los Angeles, says he was surprised to find so much of the “archaic” substance was still in use here. In a prepared statement, board president Jeff Pongonis called the move “long overdue.”

Polystyrene, which does not biodegrade and is prohibitively expensive to recycle, is made from styrene, which the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers a likely carcinogen.

Customers at the market complain often about the polystyrene cups and clamshell containers in use by North Market vendors, says Wolfe. ”Time and again, one of the messages I get from our guests is, ‘why do you allow this?’”

Wolfe says that of a dozen prepared food merchants, approximately half currently use polystyrene. Hot Chicken Takeover was the most recent vendor to abandon polystyrene containers, according to Wolfe.

In preparation for the move, North Market staff has been working with vendors to find alternative containers, says Wolfe, pointing out that while the market is not requiring its vendors to switch to compostable materials, biodegradable alternatives to Styrofoam are not as expensive as they once were.

As a not-for-profit organization, he says, “It’s our responsibility to lead by example, and hopefully the food and beverage establishments around town will follow suit.”

Proprietors of other market-style eateries did not find the move revolutionary. Reed Woogerd, president of Corso Ventures, which will open a food hall in the Short North tomorrow, says the establishment will use paper straws in its cocktails, and all of the paper products are made from recycled material. “I haven’t seen any Styrofoam being used in any of our five kitchens,” he says.

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which has plans to open a food hall in the former Budd Dairy building in the Short North next winter, has not used polystyrene in their restaurants in years.

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