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Honda: Cafeterias’ Return to Styrofoam Increases Health Risks

A day after Republicans reinstituted the use of Styrofoam cups in House cafeterias, Democrats are chiding the choice as an environmental and health debacle.

Rep. Mike Honda, ranking member on the legislative branch Appropriations subcommittee, struck out against the move Tuesday, saying it exposes his staff, colleagues and constituents to “known health risks.”

“We know that these Styrofoam cups … are connected with human carcinogens,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “To claim these cups are part of a cost-cutting measure is completely disingenuous. In fact, Styrofoam cups will increase costs to our country due to health-related impacts, toxic cleanups, new landfill construction and increased reliance on energy-intensive, oil-based plastics.”

House Administration ranking member Robert Brady said that although for financial reasons he supported nixing the House’s composting program, including the compostable cutlery and plates, Styrofoam is a big leap.

The Pennsylvania Democrat said he tried “to no avail” to get the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), to choose a different material.

“I’m unhappy about them too because they’re hard to dispose of,” Brady said.

Lungren announced last month that he would end the compost program because it costs too much and doesn’t achieve worthwhile greenhouse gas reductions.

In an interview Tuesday, he defended the Styrofoam, saying that it made the most economic sense.

“We would not put anything around that would harm anyone’s health,” the California Republican said.

Lungren said he is also looking into ways that the Architect of the Capitol can deposit all House garbage at a waste-energy facility. Currently, one of three sites the House uses is a landfill, while the other two are waste-energy plants.

“Eventually if we have this clean burn, it will be as environmentally friendly as anything we do,” Lungren said.

Lungren’s spokeswoman, Salley Wood, said that the decision about what material to use was left up to Restaurant Associates, the company contracted to run the House cafeterias.

Styrofoam is the cheapest choice, she said.

Former Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard reimbursed the company for the added cost of the compostable dinnerware out of the House’s revolving fund to encourage them to buy the environmentally friendly goods, Wood said. Republicans will not do so.

Still, some Capitol Hill lunchers were grumbling about the choice Tuesday afternoon.

“Republicans have talked about how we not extend the fiscal crisis to our kids, but we’re willing to give them our trash?” said Monica Swintz, a staffer in the office of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). “Instead of taking a step forward or even staying the same, we’re taking a huge step backwards.”

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