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Disposable utensils, coming to a Capitol near you

felicia sonmez
Monday, February 28, 2011; A13

Disposable eating ware, coming to a Capitol cafeteria near you

When the House returns Monday from a week-long recess, members and staffers will see something that hasn't been in the Capitol for four years: polystyrene.

In the first move toward phasing out part of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) "Green the Capitol" program, plastic foam cups have been reintroduced as an option for coffee drinkers in the Capitol Carry-Out, the building's mini-cafeteria.

The basement eatery had been part of Pelosi's "greening" program since 2007, when Democrats took control of the House. The program brought climate-friendly vending machines and compact fluorescent light bulbs to the Capitol; caused the Capitol Power Plant to switch from burning coal to natural gas; and reduced energy and water consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively, according to an April 2010 report.

But it was the $475,000 composting program in the House-side cafeterias that stirred the most controversy. Designed to cut down on waste, the program instituted the use of biodegradable utensils and trays made of cornstarch - an idea that may have worked better in theory than in practice, as it led to take-away boxes that leaked, spoons that melted and forks that broke when stuck into so much as a chicken tender.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, announced last month that the program would be suspended indefinitely, contending that "it is neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient."

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