Some local restaurants are offering biodegradable containers for customers to take home leftovers as part of a project by some Valparaiso University students.
It's an option at least for the short-term instead of the carry out boxes made from plastic foam that sit in landfills for centuries and pose a potential health risk. In all, 300 containers made of sugar cane were distributed to five restaurants by some students in the Valparaiso University College of Business, who through their research learned about the major pitfalls of plastic foam.
Among their findings is that plastic foam consumes more than a quarter of all landfill space in the U.S. and its active chemical ingredients, Polystyrene and Styrene, have recently been listed by the U.S Department of Health as suspected carcinogens.
Hot liquids and foods placed into styrofoam containers breakdown the chemicals allowing them to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
"We believe our box will make a difference," said Scott Staal, 19, a freshman in professor Elizabeth Gingerich's Introduction to Business class.
The all natural food containers is not just a class project, but it's a business venture by the students, who belong to a corporation, BECO SOLUTIONS.
After all of the containers are used, Staal said the goal is to find out how well the take home boxes worked for the participating restaurants and if they want to continue as business partners with the students.
The students would also like to add more restaurants to their customer base.
"Not only is it making a profit but it's making a difference environmentally," said Staal, who resides in Grand Haven, Mich.
60 of the all natural containers were handed out apiece to Broadway Cafe, Burgerhaus, Bistro 157, Margarita's and Pesto's Italian Restaurant.
Francisco Blata, the manager at Burgerhaus, said just a half dozen of the containers were still left the day after first receiving the take out boxes.
He said the only real difference is the biodegradable boxes are just a bit more difficult to close than the styrofoam kind.
The sugar cane containers are also brown, not white like the styrofoam boxes.
"They're a little bit different but they're cool," said Blata, who's open to the possibility of ordering more from the students.
The boxes were obtained from a company in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Long-term, Staal said the goal is for BECO SOLUTIONS to have its own biodegradable food take out box distributorship serving restaurants throughout northwest Indiana.
"We've been working extremely hard on this," said professor Gingerich.
Gingerich said her students last semester presented a new flavor to Ben & Jerry's ice cream that is geared more toward a younger demographic.
The flavor called Freshmen 15, has not hit the shelves but is still in the developmental stage, Gingerich said