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House Says Goodbye to Styrofoam

Staffers have already noticed new food containers in Longworth. (CQ Roll Call File Photo).
Staffers have already noticed new food containers in Longworth. (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Food containers in the House became more environmentally friendly last week, as paper containers have started to take the place of their plastic foam counterparts.  

Dan Weiser, spokesman for the chief administrative officer, could not say whether the new containers are more expensive because the CAO does not comment on contracts. But, Weiser said, “Food prices are not going to go up.”  

House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., and ranking member Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., announced the change on Tuesday. They noted the new containers will be phased in “once existing inventories have depleted.” In other words, the current plastic foam containers — criticized by some members of Congress after D.C. instituted its own Styrofoam ban in June — will no longer be used in the House.  

A member of the subcommittee’s minority staff said the D.C. ban did not affect or expedite the effort to find new containers. Democrats have been pushing the issue for the past three years.  

House cafeterias switched to plastic foam containers in 2011 because they were less expensive. Prior to 2011, the containers were compostable, corn-based products as part of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Green the Capitol Initiative.”  

Republicans ended the initiative in 2011, citing concerns about finances and effectiveness. Since then, Democrats have been pushing for more eco-friendly food containers.  

In a March hearing, Wasserman Schultz asked Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy to investigate replacing the plastic foam containers. “Do we have to use Styrofoam products in, in the cafeterias?” she asked. “I mean, there is no fast-food restaurant in the nation that uses Styrofoam. It does not biodegrade.” Cassidy agreed to look into alternatives.  

Cassidy became the CAO in January and was previously a senior leadership aide for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “When you have a CAO that comes from the majority party, I think it was a good effort of his to show … that he was here to work with all of the members,” said the Democratic staffer.  

The staffer added that the container issue was a positive indication that members of both parties and House officials can move beyond partisanship to address House administration.  

The aide added, “We don’t need to do partisan battle over food containers.”  

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