[GRRN] J. Winston Porter on the Benefits of Disposables

Bill Sheehan (bill_sheehan@mindspring.com)
Tue, 15 Dec 1998 10:34:16 -0500

[Forwarded from Tom Watson, Waste Prevention Forum, 12/11/98]+

A press release from the Foodservice and Packaging Institute (FPI),
forwarded by Jerry Powell, notes that FPI has just released a new video
called "Doilies Make the Difference." The video "promotes the many benefits
and uses of paper doilies in restaurants, hotels, bars and meeting rooms,
and is aimed at chefs and foodservice managers." The video is available
free by calling FPI at (703) 527-7505. You can also check out the Doilies
page on FPI's website at: http://www.fpi.org/doilies.htm

FPI, based in Arlington, VA, is "the material-neutral trade association for
manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of foodservice disposable
products, as well as others associated with the industry." Other material
in the FPI website might also be interesting to waste prevention advocates.

For example, the website describes a report with these conclusions:
-- Disposable packaging is usually more hygienic than reusable packaging.
-- Disposable packaging, due to the avoidance of washing, is almost always
better from water-use and wastewater-production aspects.
-- Reusable packaging may be better from solid-waste, air-pollution and
energy-usage standpoints, but only if the item is reused several hundred

That report is described at: http://www.fpi.org/report.html The FPI
home page is at: http://www.fpi.org


>From Bruce Nordman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA:

Regarding the Foodservice and Packaging Institute (FPI) report comparing
single-use and reusable food service products (mentioned in a 12/11/98
posting), there is certainly good reason to view their report with caution.

I have no direct experience with studying food service alternatives. I have
however studied the relative impact of diaper choices extensively and there
may be significant parallels, particularly in that the single-use industry
is well financed and organized, the reusables industry is neither, and
energy for washing/drying is a significant part of the analysis.

>From the FPI web site, I see that one of the authors of the report is J.
Winston Porter, who I have always heard of in the context of advocacy rather
than unbiased scientific analysis; I am unfamiliar with the other author. A
study conducted by a neutral organization would seem to have more

In the case of diapers, the studies presented in the press in the early '90s
were presented as good science, but were clearly not. There were flaws in
both methodology and in the data used which made them (I would argue) worse
than useless. The goal seemed to be to confuse people and convince them
that there were no good choices available to concerned people, where as in
reality there are many such choices available. A key issue is that the ways
that reusables are used and washed is not fixed, but is highly variable and
affirmatively changeable.

While I am strongly opinionated myself, as a scientist I have to distinguish
between that and what I see good scientific evidence for. I suspect that
the food service question would be well served by good science but that for
the near term it won't.

I'm not taking a stand on the food service issue, but would encourage anyone
with the time and inclination to get the FPI report, study it closely, and
try to confirm or challenge its methods and assumptions.

E-mail: BNordman@LBL.gov

Note: For a summary of the report, and information on how to get a copy of
it, see the FPI website at: http://www.fpi.org/report.html