Monday, March 21, 2011

Compostable forks: The next great political divide?

House Democrats and Republicans fight over funding from Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting, Medicare and plastic forks (and cups)?

Apparently, the compostable forks were expensive and did not stand up to the tougher varieties of lettuce. 

From the New York Times:
Within the war between Republicans and Democrats over the federal spending rages an affray over disposable forks.


Under the tutelage of Representative Nancy Pelosi during the years when Democrats ran the House, her party moved to “green” the Capitol with several initiatives, including obligating the food vendor for the three main House cafeterias to provide compostable cups and utensils. But the newly empowered House Republicans have ended the program, and plastic forks and foam cups have returned.

The move enraged many Democrats, who argue that the House is now doing something bad for the environment and retrograde.
(More after the break)


“If you look at the best companies to work for, nobody is questioning things like composting and recycling,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, who wrote a letter this week to Speaker John A. Boehner to complain about the cut. Mr. Blumenauer’s letter — signed by some Democratic colleagues as well — also cited health concerns associated with plastic foam.

Republicans counter that the composting program cost too much and had limited environmental benefits, and that the compostable utensils were a bad deal for diners anyway because they could not stand up to hot soup and the heartier salad fixings.

“Contrary to the objective of the program,” said Salley Wood, the spokeswoman for Representative Dan Lungren of California, chairman of the House Administration Committee, who moved to end the program, composting “failed to produce significant savings in carbon emissions.” On that score, she said, the total savings were equal to taking one car off the road per year.

The program took $475,000 each year from the fees that the House collected from the food vendor, Restaurant Associates, between the materials, labor and costs of hauling refuse out. (Restaurant Associates would not comment for this article.)

Further, Ms. Wood added, the spoons would often dissolve in hot liquids, and forks and knives bent and snapped. “They could not penetrate lettuce,” she said, adding, “There were a substantial number of complaints.”

While the most visible spending fights center on money for Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting, Medicare and other concerns that touch the lives of people who do not spend their days on Capitol Hill, the fork fracas brings the current ideological warfare into relief, perhaps because it is playing out daily on the cafeteria trays of those who work here.

As the Environmental Protection Agency officials face off against skeptical Republicans in round after round of hearings concerning regulations, and as Democrats fight to save their pet programs in the face of Republican-led budget slashing, the battle over the best way to serve the House special (often a burrito, with too many green peppers, and a 16-ounce soda) is over money and beliefs.

“This decision really embodies the new G.O.P. majority,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi of California, the former speaker. “More trash talk and policies that take us backwards.”


Ms. Wood countered: “He’s trash-talking our trash talk?  We suspended the costly program based on the undisputable fact that it wasn’t working.” She added, “Is it environmental mediocrity at any price?” In fact, in December in a letter to the head of the Republican transition team, the departing chairman of the Administration Committee, Representative Robert A. Brady, Democrat of Pennsylvania, suggested ending the composting program because it was not cost-efficient.

Ms. Wood said that while the committee had found the composting program wasteful, it had come up with its own initiatives to “green” the cafeterias. At the Rayburn House Office Building, the cafeterias will soon begin to use reusable dinnerware, and the House will seek to have all of its solid waste sent to incinerator plants that create energy, rather than to landfills.

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