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By Dr. Mahmood A Khwaja

Daily Times

Published Date: Oct 29, 2015

Disposable containers

Sir: The use of disposable containers made of material like ‘Thermocol’ is on the rise, especially at the takeaway fast food shops, hotels and to a lesser extent at household level. The changeover from ceramics/glass/china crockery to disposable containers seems most rapid without due consideration to its resulting effects on public health and the environment.
Thermocol is considered a ‘Cancer Suspect Agent,’ and could increase thyroid hormone levels. Prolonged exposure to its high amount is considered a health risk and may affect the central nervous system. Foam food containers/disposable containers have been banned in many cities in the US. For food items, its amount should not be more than one percent by weight and for fatty food not more than 0.50 percent by weight. Heating in microwave oven may be avoided (especially for food containing carotene/Vitamin A) and only be used if so instructed on the label of the container.
Apparently the use of disposable containers is due to commercial/economic reasons. The material is not costly and even if the cost is internalised, the food cost does not go up. It reduces breakage loss and also cuts down kitchen staff. However economic gains need to be considered vis-a-vis the environmental cost and social justice. If the cost of environmentally sound disposable waste management is also included, one wonders how economical the use of disposable items would be. Besides, most of the disposable waste is generated due to the lifestyle of the elite, upper and upper middle classes, but the environmental and health impacts are mostly faced by the poor.
The officials of the ministry of food security and research, ministry of health and environmental protection agencies are requested to look into this emerging health and environmental issue and take necessary measures.