NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Activists Wrong about Styrofoam Cups

August 19, 2011

Activists have long claimed that foam cups are less energy efficient than paper cups because they were not recycled as much.  More recently, they have levied the charge that the cups are dangerous because they are made with a supposed carcinogenic chemical -- styrene.  They are wrong on both counts, says Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

First consider the impact on energy usage.  Earlier this year, the research group Franklin Associates released findings from their lifecycle assessment of polystyrene packaging and alternative paper products.  Such assessments attempt to measure the impact that products have on the environment during their entire lifetime -- from cradle to grave.

  • The company 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 lifecycles, polystyrene packaging products require 20 to 30 percent less water than do paper alternatives.

Ironically, there are additional adverse environmental impacts resulting from the politically correct substitution of foam cups.  Specifically, the elimination of foam cups causes some people to "double cup," placing one paper cup within another to prevent burning their hands.

  • According to Franklin Associates, "double-cupping" results in over twice as much energy and solid waste volume, and over five times as much solid waste by weight.
  • It also results in nearly twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the use of a single polystyrene cup.

Source: Angela Logomasini, "Fast Food Outlet in Pickle as Activists Attack Foam Cup," Pajamas Media, August 16, 2011.

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