February 12 2013
Thank you Julie Gunlock for pointing out New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest folly: a proposal to ban foam (a.k.a., Styrofoam or polystyrene) cups. This is one policy that really gets me foaming at the mouth because I am tired of paper cups that leak, burn my hands and never keep my coffee cold. Bloomberg’s proposal an affront to personal freedom, and it is bad environmental policy.
Not only are foam cups safe, as documented in a recent study, they are, like many plastic products, very energy efficient. Foam cups are even more energy efficient than reusable ceramic cups in many cases. One of the “classic” life cycle studies was conducted back in the 1990s by University of Victoria chemistry professor Martin B. Hocking. It measured energy-use requirements for foam, paper, and ceramic cups throughout each product’s lifecycle—including production, disposal, and washing (for the ceramic cups). Foam cups were far more energy efficient than paper cups and even more energy efficient than ceramic cups that were used less than 1,006 times.
In February 2011, the research group Franklin Associates released findings from its life-cycle assessment of polystyrene packaging and alternative paper products. It found that the average 16-ounce polystyrene cup uses a third less energy, produces 50 percent less solid waste by volume, and releases a third less of greenhouse gases than does a 16-ounce paper cup with a sleeve. Over their life cycles, polystyrene packaging products require 20 to 30 percent less water than do paper alternatives.