"They said when the government did not have any rules that ban the use of Styrofoam, then why were we protesting."

How a Bengaluru NGO got a city mall to stop using Styrofoam cutlery in its food courtImage source: I am a Citizen - ನಾನು ನಾಗರೀಕ/Facebook
news Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 10:41

When Bindhu Balasubramanian, a software engineer in Bengaluru, first proposed replacing Styrofoam cutlery in Bengaluru's Phoenix Market City Mall with eco-friendly options, mall authorities had scoffed at her.

"They said when the government did not have any rules that ban the use of Styrofoam, then why were we protesting," Bindhu says speaking to The News Minute.

Earlier this month, all the stalls in the food court in Phoenix Mall shifted to eco-friendly and sustainable options for cutlery, like metals, melamine and arecanut plates, from the Styrofoam ones.

This, after I am a Citizen or Naanu Nagarika, an NGO in the city, protested for the last few months against the use of Styrofoam in the mall.

"It was not easy to bring about the change. We had been protesting for months. If only the authorities were proactive. Frankly, they finally made the shift because they did not have any other option," Bindhu, one of the founding members of the NGO, says.

Image source: I am a Citizen - ನಾನು ನಾಗರೀಕ/Facebook

Polystyrene, the trade name for which is Styrofoam, is a petroleum-based plastic. It is popular, especially with businesses, because it is cheap, lightweight and offers good insulation. However, there's a flip-side to it. The material is harmful for the environment and can cause health hazards in animals as well as human beings.

Two of the components that make up Styrofoam are Benzene and Styrene, both of which are known human carcinogens. It is also difficult to recycle Styrofoam. When hot food is served on Styrofoam, toxic chemicals are released from the material which are hazardous to human health. Polystyrene takes at least five hundred years to decompose and is a major source of pollution in several parts of the world. 

The use of Styrofoam has been banned in several places in the world including New York and California for these very reasons.

Image source: Phoenix MarketCity Bangalore/Facebook

"At first, mall authorities did show interest in the idea, but later cited excuses about why they couldn't do so, including a fund crunch and, in case of using steel cutlery, water constraint," she says.

Over the next few weeks, emails were exchanged and meetings were set up between the mall and the NGO, but nothing productive came out of it. According to Bindhu, the authorities were "only prolonging it".


It is then that I am A Citizen, along with the support of other NGOs, decided to launch a protest in the mall on November 1. "We spoke to the customers in the mall and explained to them the harmful-effects of using Styrofoam. We even collected nearly 300 signatures for our campaign that day," she says.

Finally mall authorities asked for a week's time to implement the new initiative and the food court in Phoenix mall is now free of Styrofoam.

"After using the Styrofoam, the malls dump it in nearby villages where it is burnt. But why should villages suffer because of them? If they want to use Styrofoam, they should then dump it or burn it in their own premises," Bindhu says.

Siu mei with rice in a foam takeout container; By Thomas Yuan, via Wikimedia Commons

At present, I am a Citizen is in talks with McDonald's and Bindhu says a few malls following in the footsteps of Phoenix Mall have already begun the process of replacing Styrofoam with other Eco-friendly cutlery.

When contacted by TNM on Wednesday evening, Mr Simon, General Manager, Phoenix Mall, confirmed that the food court in the mall had stopped using Styrofoam, and said that a spokesperson of the mall would get in touch for further comment. 

The copy will be updated when we receive a response from Phoenix Market City. 

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