Which would you rather have -- a warm hamburger or the ozone layer? It's a silly question, but millions of people unwittingly make that decision every day because polystyrene foam products (commonly referred to as "Styrofoam") used in some fast-food restaurants are made with an ozone-depleting chemical called HCFC-22.
Wait a minute. Haven't we heard that polystyrene foam food containers are no longer made with chemicals that destroy the ozone layer? Yes, but some businesses haven't been entirely honest with us.
An example: Earlier this year, McDonald's claimed it wasn't using foam products made with ozone-depleting CFCs anymore. It sounded responsible, and millions of Americans believed the company. But McDonald's was hiding behind a technicality; it was using HCFCs instead of CFCs.
HCFC-22, referred to as a "second-generation" relative of CFCs, has about 5 percent of the ozone-destroying power of CFCs. An improvement? Yes. Acceptable? Not if you care about the ozone layer. There's simply no excuse for making disposable food containers with any kind of ozone-depleting substance.
An industry spokesman tells me that McDonald's has finally stopped buying foam made with HCFCs. If that's true, it's good news.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
* Avoid polystyrene foam products. It's almost impossible to tell which are made with HCFCs and which are made with other gases -- so the best thing to do is to avoid them altogether.
* When you do, explain why. Small retailers often believe the propaganda that polystyrene foam products are OK for the ozone layer -- the HCFC myth has to be exposed.
* Write to the main office of your local supermarket and tell them about your ozone concerns. Encourage them to use alternatives to foam meat trays, egg cartons and, if they have salad bars, foam plates or take-out containers.
* Write to the main office of the fast-food restaurants in your area that use foam products.
* The EarthWorks Group