Food fight waged over congressional utensils


On the Hill, even the kind of cup you prefer can be a weapon on the political battleground. 

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., wants to ban Styrofoam cups and other items made from the chemical polystyrene from cafeterias throughout the House side (the Democratic-controlled Senate already bans such products on its side) through an amendment to the 2013 legislative-branch appropriations bill on the House floor on Friday.

“Congress should lead by example, and it’s the wrong example for us to only be using Styrofoam cups and plastic forks and so on that are not biodegradable, that are harmful to the environment,” Moran said.

It’s the latest chapter in an ongoing battle over the recycling habits of Congress. More than a decade ago, lawmakers pushed for more robust recycling after a number of environmental groups blasted Congress for having an informal program with questionable results. 

After becoming speaker in 2007, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced the Green the Capitol initiative, which revamped the House with, among other things, new lights and biodegradable cups and utensils, all meant to reduce the Capitol’s carbon footprint.

But when Republicans regained control of the House, they nixed Green the Capitol and brought the Styrofoam cups back in 2011. House Administration Committee Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., cited the House chief administrative officer’s findings that the greening program increased costs by $475,000 a year while providing negligible environmental benefits.

“It is neither cost effective nor energy efficient to continue the program,” Lungren said in a statement last year. 

Plus, there were complaints from both sides of the aisle about biodegradable utensils that barely worked. 

The reintroduction of Styrofoam didn’t go over well with some Democratic lawmakers, nine of whom sent a letter to Republican leaders charging that the cups are dangerous and contain a “potential human carcinogen.” Moran led an unsuccessful fight in 2011 to get Styrofoam out of House cafeterias, with a vote that fell largely along party lines. 

Now Moran is back at it again, although he says the amendment will likely fail. 

“If it sounds like we’re being environmentally sensitive, then it’s a ‘no’ vote if you’re a Republican,” Moran said. 

Lungren said that Democrats should take into account a GOP program that burns waste across the Capitol at local facilities and converts it into energy. 

"We were just starting [the waste-to-energy program] when we had this debate last year," Lungren said. "It now exists. Styrofoam, as well as everything else, is part of the burn." 

Lungren also added that Democratic claims that Styrofoam is a carcinogen are unsubstantiated. 

(Image via discpicture /

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.