Take-out order

Come next January, the take-out boxes in Seattle restaurants will no longer be made from foam or plastic. The City Council of Seattle voted in late July to ban Styrofoam and polystyrene containers at places that serve food. By July 2010, the ban will also include plastic utensils and food containers. However, the council doesn’t expect Seattle-ites to bring their own dining ware or eat off their shirts. Businesses will have to switch to compostable or recyclable alternatives.

Also beginning in January, a 20-cent fee will be charged for disposable paper and plastic bags at grocery, drug and convenience stores in Seattle. The fee is expected to generate $3.5 million, according to Sustainablebusiness.com, which is to be used by Seattle Public Utilities for recycling programs and administrative costs. In lieu of the ban, the city says it will give at least one free, reusable bag to each household and provide extra bags for low-income residents.

Speaking of plastic bags, the Environmental Protection Agency has chimed in on the paper-or-plastic debate. According to them, plastic actually takes up less landfill space, releases fewer air and water pollutants, and requires less energy to make, ship and recycle than paper bags. That doesn’t make plastic bags the angels of disposal, however—just ask the Texas-sized island of them swimming in the ocean in the North Pacific Gyre. For starters, plastic bags take 1,000 years to decompose compared to the one-month-rate for paper. They’re also made of oil, and well, you know what they say about oil. So, says the EPA, the reusable tote bag—recycled hemp, no doubt? —trend is on to something: The greenest bag is the one you use over and over and over again.