Mythbusting the supposed evils of plastics


I was fortunate to have a long conversation with Kerry Flickner last week. Flickner is the National Director - Waste Solutions for Foodservice Sustainability Solutions (Marietta, GA). He knew I was looking for commentary on the EPS foodservice debate that is ongoing in school districts, and expressed his frustration at the lack of scientific understanding leading to the many myths that surround plastic materials. The misinformation, in turn, leads to poor decision making among organizations and corporations in their efforts to be green and implement sustainability.

One of the myths that we discussed surrounds plastic materials, including EPS foodservice products, being put into landfills. Opponents decry the practice, because "plastic in landfills will last hundreds of years." That is true, but so does everything that is put into a sanitary urban landfill. "Modern sanitary landfills are designed to be tombs," said Flickner. "They are designed and built according to EPA regulations, which means nothing in a landfill will disintegrate."

Proof of that has been around for several decades now, since William Rathje (1945-2012) turned his Garbage Project from households to landfills in 1987. As a noted "garbologist," Rathje pioneered the study of modern refuse. His landfill studies revealed some astonishing findings, notably that items such as hot dogs and lettuce that had been entombed for years looked as if they had just been thrown out.

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