Can a food court be green?

For my last food column on CBC Radio’s Here&Now, I visited the Urban Eatery food court at Toronto’s Eaton Centre to try to find out if a food court could be green. Whenever I visit a food court, I am gobsmacked by the amount of garbage those places generate. But at the Urban Eatery–as well as in a slowly growing number of food courts around the world–you can order your food on a real plate, eat it with real cutlery and drink out of a real glass. All this to spare the trash! And the environmental burden of all that Styrofoam and cardboard and garbage. And good news: even though you must use energy to wash the dishes as well as water, it’s still better for the environment to avoid disposable.

In the 1990s, a chemistry professor named Martin Hocking compared how much energy was used to make a certain kind of cup and compared it to the disposable version. He found that if you use a glass cup and washed it fifteen times you would use the same amount of energy as it takes to make 15 paper cups. A reusable plastic cup, like they have at the Urban Eatery, needs to be used 450 times to equal a Styrofoam cup. Because there is so much turn over at the food court–the cups and plates are used at least thousands of times–then it is certain that the reusable plates are much better.