Foam Products Are Being Banned: Why Plastic Is the Alternative for Restaurants and Stores

The ubiquitous Styrofoam coffee cup will be no more. Foam products are on the way out, and recyclable plastics have replaced them as a better alternative.

To combat rising Styrofoam levels in oceans and landfills, many cities and states have begun implementing bans on Styrofoam containers and other single-use plastics to encourage the use of environmentally friendly packaging.

Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C. are leading the charge, forbidding restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores from using most Styrofoam products—such as cups, bowls, plates, and other containers—or risk facing fines of up to $250.

Disposable food containers are essential for all food carryout and delivery services, so it is crucial to stay up to date on the current and impending bans on Styrofoam containers.

Why Switch from Foam Products to Plastic?

Styrofoam is extremely harmful to the environment for three key reasons:

First, the Styrofoam manufacturing process uses hydrocarbons, which are released into the air and produce a hazardous pollutant that can impair lung function and lead to respiratory illness.

Additionally, it is estimated that Styrofoam takes up about 30% of landfills and creates a large amount of waste in the country—in fact, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups a year! While in landfills, expanded polystyrene releases harmful chemicals into the environment that, when consumed by animals or humans, can pass along carcinogens and contaminants.

Lastly, although Styrofoam containers are usually marked as recyclable, most recycling centers across the country do not accept these products.

It is extremely difficult to recycle Styrofoam materials due to the chemical process used to produce it. Because the polymer polystyrene beads have already expanded during production, they cannot simply be repurposed or remolded, as there is no technology or system in place to support this process.

Plastic Container Alternatives to Foam Products

In contrast to Styrofoam, plastic food packaging is not only a more environmentally friendly alternative, but also helps to ensure product freshness and quality in transport, prolongs shelf life, and meets FDA regulations. Some plastics are stronger and chemically resistant, making them better for packaging, while others are safe and high-temperature resistant, making them more suited for direct contact with food.

There are numerous alternatives to using Styrofoam products, including paper products and a variety of plastics, including Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Polyetheretherketone (PEEK), Acrylic (PMMA), and Polypropylene (PP).

PP is one of the most common and environmentally friendly plastics, and is the plastic most often used in our food packaging products. Sunshine Supply offers a full line of foam-free plastic container products that restaurants, stores, and local drink shops can use for customers.

Why is PP the best plastic container choice?

There are many benefits to using PP for your business’s food containers. The material boasts a high melting point and is lightweight and moldable, yet still high in strength, making it a great FDA food-grade plastic.

PP is also highly customizable, another reason it is so appealing to food and beverage distributors. It can be either opaque or translucent and be matched to any color, and design teams can experiment with different aesthetics to match a company’s branding.

Although PP has a high melting point, one of its main drawbacks is that it is prone to thermal expansion, which limits the material’s high-temperature applications. It is also susceptible to oxidation, UV degradation, and damage from chlorinated solvents in rare cases.

However, PP is still one of the most preferred plastic materials when it comes to food packaging due to its high quality and low cost.

What are the environmental benefits of PP?

If the product benefits weren’t enough, PP is also one of the best choices for environmentally friendly packaging. The EPA classifies PP as a Safer Chemical Ingredient and considers it a safer choice compared to most other plastics.

During the manufacturing process, there are no toxic emissions, toxic waste, fluorocarbons, or halogens. Also, creating PP materials requires fewer natural resources and energy than creating cotton, paper, canvas, and other fabrics.

At the end of a PP product’s life, the item is fully recyclable and generates fewer waste products in disposal. During the recycling process, there are no toxic chemicals released, nor are any toxic gases generated when burned.

Want to Switch from Foam to Plastic?

If your restaurant needs high-quality to-go containers and you want to ditch the foam in favor of plastic, simply reach out to Sunshine! We’re happy to collaborate on the right containers and supplies for your business.

Understanding What Those Recycling Numbers on Plastics Really Mean

Packaging sustainability is becoming an important issue for consumers and businesses alike. But that doesn’t mean that plastic-based packaging and containers are going away. In fact, one study indicates over a third of consumers under age 44 see great benefits to plastics. Benefits that outweigh any negatives, especially if that packaging is recycled — or recyclable.  

But deciphering the meaning of the recycling logo and its numbers can be daunting for both businesses and patrons. For example, although most items can be recycled, some can only be recycled through complex and costly processes, which can use a lot of energy and can therefore be counterproductive to sustainability.  

With more than 8 million tons of plastic ending up in our oceans and microplastics polluting our rainwater, responsible recycling and reuse of plastic materials is becoming more important than ever. To help you — and your customers — sort out the recyclable from the non-recyclable when it comes to plastics, we’ve put together this easy-to-follow cheat sheet to help you understand what those recycling numbers really represent.  

Recycling Numbers of Plastics: A Quick Primer  

Every area of the country has its own rules and regulations governing recyclables that determine what they will and will not process. However, one of the first steps toward sourcing recyclable, sustainable plastics is to gain a strong understanding of what the recycling symbols stamped on most plastic items really mean.  

The #1 Symbol: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) 

This plastic is mostly used for water, soft drinks, and other beverages due to its inexpensive, lightweight profile and the fact that it poses a minimal risk of leaching chemicals. This type of plastic is welcomed by most recycling programs, even curbside ones, if it has been properly emptied and rinsed.  

Recycled Uses: Recycled PET can be used to create more bottles, food containers, fiber, carpet, paneling, and even warm and cozy fleece. 

The #2 Symbol: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) 

HDPE plastic is incredibly versatile and useful — especially when it comes to food packaging. It has an exceptionally low leaching risk, making it perfect for yogurt tubs, milk jugs, juice bottles, butter containers, liners for cereal boxes, and more. It is accepted by most curbside recycle programs, but grocery bags made of HDPE must be delivered to specific stores that recycle them.  

Recycled Uses: Recycled HDPE is used in a variety of materials from floor tiles and lumber to pens, drainage pipes, and shampoo bottles.  

The #3 Symbol: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) 

Cheap and durable, PVC is found in everything from vinyl siding to windows. However, it can release dioxins during the manufacturing process or if it is burned. 

Recycled Uses: PVC is rarely recycled, but some manufacturers of plastic lumber will accept it. With proper processing, it can be made into decks, flooring, mats, and more.   

The #4 Symbol: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) 

A staple polymer for use in creating grocery and bread bags, tote bags, furniture, and squeeze bottles, LDPE is more difficult to recycle in curbside programs. However, it is accepted by some community collection programs. 

Recycled Uses: When recycled, LDPE can be reborn as floor tiles, lumber, envelopes, trash can liners, and even paneling.  

The #5 Symbol: Polypropylene (PP) 

With a high melting point that makes it perfect for food containers and other storage for hot liquids, PP plastic is becoming more accepted by recycling programs across the nation. It is typically used to create straws, yogurt tubs, medicine bottles, and bottle caps.  

Recycled Uses: PP can be recreated as bins, trays, signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, and landscape border materials.  

The #6 Symbol: Polystyrene (PS) 

This plastic can be made in either foam or rigid forms and is most often found in disposable cups and plates, egg cartons, meat trays, and for use as to-go containers. However, most recycling programs do not accept it.  

Recycled Uses: Recycled PS can be used in insulation, egg cartons, to-go containers, and foam packing, among other uses.  

The #7 Symbol: Miscellaneous 

This is a catch-all category for plastics that don’t quite fit into other groups. Hard plastics are commonly found with this symbol, as are DVDs, nylon, and even specific food containers. These are typically considered non-recyclable materials for most local programs. 

Recycled Uses: Despite the difficulty with recycling these, there are limited uses for them as custom-made products.  

Sunshine Supply — Your Choice for High Quality Plastics 

Need convenient, high-quality plastic containers, utensils, or bags? Just reach out to Sunshine today and let us help you choose the perfect items for your specific business needs. 

How Additive Masterbatches Enhance Plastics

With the demand for reusable and refillable plastic storage options increasing, retailers, restaurant owners, and other brands that use this material are focusing on ways to improve single-use plastics or provide plastic containers that can serve two functions, such as a container for both food storage and reheating. To make these conventional plastic materials more durable, increasing their operational life and enhancing their mechanical properties, manufacturers often create additive masterbatches for their plastic products.

An additive masterbatch will add specific qualities to plastic used for containers, storage, and other purposes in a more cost-effective way than purchasing the polymer with these qualities already in place. In addition, additives can contribute to the sustainability of the product in addition to enhancing overall performance. Formulas for each masterbatch will vary based on the ultimate use for the plastic, ranging from enhancing its heat resistance or durability to providing more flexibility.

The Many Benefits of Using Plastic Additives to Enhance Polymers

Quality, impact resistance, UV-resistance, and even longevity are important attributes for plastics, especially if they are being used in the food packaging or restaurant industry. Plastics that come in contact with foods or will be used to heat or reheat food products must exhibit specific qualities to meet FDA approval requirements — and to provide better performance and safety for consumers. Some of the most common plastic additives and their uses include:

Anti-Microbial Additives

Anti-microbial plastics are a boon for the food industry, as they contain ingredients that can stunt microbial growth, protecting against many microorganisms such as fungi, algae, and strains of bacteria. Anti-microbial additives help provide a sterile environment while also protecting the polymer surface to add to its longevity and durability.

Anti-Fog Additives

If you are packaging food, especially if it will accumulate moisture, you’ll want plastic containers made from polymers with anti-fog additives. Anti-fog additives like the ones found in Sunshine Supply’s anti-fog containers help provide your takeout and to-go containers with better transparency and a more attractive appearance.

Flame Retardant Additives

Flame retardant additives are an important element to make plastics safer for use when exposed to heat or flames. There are many types of flame retardant additives — brominated, chlorinated, halogenated, and non-halogenated, each of which has a specific use and effectiveness.

Anti-Block Additives

Any plastics that are rolled together may have the tendency to “block” or stick to one another, which often occurs with plastic films such as cling films, making them difficult to produce and unroll. Anti-block additives counter this tendency by micro-roughening the surface of the polymers and reducing their tendency to stick.

Anti-Static Additives

Static charges are the natural buildup of electric energy on materials that exhibit both high surface resistance and low conductivity. Although this is a naturally occurring phenomenon, static charges can cause spark discharges in plastics that can not only affect production, but also the end usage. Anti-static agents can help reduce or eliminate these charges by reducing the surface resistance of the polymers. One of the main uses for anti-static additives is in polyethylene plastics (PE) commonly used in packaging films in the food industry.

UV and Anti-Aging Additives

Heat and light can affect the look and function of plastics either during processing or through normal usage. Factors such as contact with ozone, ultraviolet (UV) light, and oxidation, among others, can degrade or change the properties of certain polymers. To combat this, antioxidants and UV stabilizers are often added to plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene to stabilize them and contribute to their strength, durability, and ability to stand up to environments where heat and light are common.

Need Dependable, Hard-Working Plastics for Your Business?

What kind of plastics does your business need to thrive? Whether you are looking for high-quality, BPA-free plastic containers that withstand heat or strong, resilient plastic bags for carry-out or bagging up purchases – we have you covered. Our line of premium plastic bags, containers, straws, and utensils will help you do more business while providing customers with safety and convenience. Want to know more? Just reach out to our team at Sunshine and we’ll be happy to assist you!