Community Improvement: Styro-Free for You, Me & the Critters that Be, by Vicki Londerville

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When I moved to the Upper Peninsula, one of my first excursions was to a Marquette bakery. Jubilant over finding a local supplier for my long-running pastry fixation, I ordered a croissant and a coffee to go. My heart sank when the barista handed me a piping hot Americano in a Styrofoam cup. I must’ve looked as though she’d fixed me a hemlock latte.

“Is something wrong? Did you need more room?” she asked.

“Umm… no…,” I trailed off, not wanting to make a fuss; there was a substantial queue of customers behind me. I walked out of the bakery feeling frustrated that I didn’t speak up.

A Greener Change

Enter Ron Carnell. He attended Northern Michigan University, followed by the University of Washington (BA), then earned a Master’s degree from Kansas State University. Carnell has a long history of activism, including field fundraising for Public Interest Research Group, Greenpeace Action, and the Northwest AIDS Foundation.

Upon moving back to Marquette from Seattle in July of 2018, Carnell noticed that most restaurants he visited were still using Styrofoam TM (expanded polystyrene, or EPS) containers for takeout items.

“I began talking about it and found there was enough interest to lay the groundwork for a campaign to urge the City of Marquette to get behind a resolution.” He started StyroFree Marquette, a grassroots group of local citizens and business owners promoting the benefits of replacing EPS take-out and beverage containers with healthier, environmentally safer options for Marquette and, maybe one day, all of the U.P.

That said, Carnell maintains that StyroFree Marquette is not out to ban anything. Rather, this group hopes to inspire restauranteurs and bakery and coffee shop owners to consider what can be better choices for their bottom line, the community’s image, and the environment.

The Problem with EPS

Pieces of EPS cups and food containers are a common choking and death hazard when birds, fish, and wildlife consume them. The more an EPS takeout container breaks into smaller pieces, the more difficult it is to clean up. EPS is also petroleum-based, is nearly impossible to recycle (there are no EPS recycling options in the U.P.), and is known to leech cancer-causing chemicals like toluene and benzene into hot foods. EPS is already banned in dozens of cities across the country, with many more considering joining the list. Recent big-city bans include New York City and San Diego.

We all know Marquette is growing. We offer so much as a place to live and as a tourist destination—lively arts and entertainment, wonderful winter and summer activities, and expanding culinary tastes. Offering consumers alternatives to EPS takeout containers and beverage cups is but one easy and cost-effective step toward strengthening what makes our town so appealing. With the support of citizens and city government, Marquette can be the first city in Michigan where restaurants and coffee shops actively use alternatives to EPS containers.

Feedback & Action

Since October 2018, the StyroFree Marquette citizen coalition has received virtually 100% positive responses from local restaurant owners, city officials, students, and residents. The coalition invites the public to share their questions, concerns, and input with members of StyroFree Marquette. The coalition’s next meeting will be held Wednesday, June 5 from 7:00-8:30 pm, at Peter White Public Library’s Heritage Room.

To learn more, call Ron Carnell at 206-227-0867 or visit http://www.styrofreemarquette.org or Facebook – Twitter/StyroFree Marquette.

Vicki Londerville is a Marquette artist/illustrator and an active member of the Marquette Artist Collective. She is currently writing and illustrating an environmentally-themed children’s book set in the Upper Peninsula. Vicki loves exploring the UP’s wild places on her horse or in her kayak.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved. Click here for U.P. distribution locations.

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