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[GreenYes] Styrofoam cups vs everything else

I just did a search on this forum and found that my question was
addressed about 18 months ago, but I was wondering if there was any
new information out there on this.

Last summer I was helping to plan bible school at my church. My
church uses, mostly, Styrofoam cups. When I was researching other
options, including compostable plastic, I ran across Martin Hocking's
research regarding the intrinsic energy cost of various forms of
disposable and reusable products. I wrote to him and he sent me
information about several studies he had done and it sounded like the
Styrofoam was the least problematic option for my church. However,
over and over again Styrofoam makes the top 10 lists of things to stop
using to save the planet on the websites of various environmental

My county has an award winning composting program, but it accepts only
yard waste at this time. I've been told that even the best back yard
composting can't manage compostable plastics made from corn. So I'm
assuming, aside from the lesser amount of petroleum used in
manufacture, using compostable plastic isn't much of an improvement.

Martin Hocking said that the amount of energy used in making reusable
dinner wear is high, the energy used in washing it is high, and the
energy used in disposal is high, so in a situation like a church
fellowship hall with lots of children, reusable dinnerware isn't a
good option. The church also doesn't own a dishwasher, so that might
be a problem. I had considered having folks bring a cup to use each
night, to at least cut down on the cups. I suspect that this would be
a hard sell because people would forget to bring them, or forget to
take them home, and I think that would be seen as a big inconvenience.

One option I considered is that there is a salvage grocery store near
here that sells cups and plates from local restaurants that the
restaurant isn't going to use. They have super bowl plastic cups long
after the super bowl and things like that. Most all of them are paper
cups with some sort of wax coating or they are the #2 plastic cups.

Dr. Hocking's response was, "If half a dozen china cups/mugs are
chipped or broken during the Bible School, then each one is equivalent
in terms of energy cost as about a thousand polystyrene foam
disposable cups. The washing energy for a glass or china cup is about
the same as the energy required to make and dispose of a polystyrene
foam cup. Paper cups have a greater intrinsic energy cost than
polystyrene foam, but still much less than a china cup would, so could
also be used as a substitute."

He gave me these references:

Hocking, M.B. 1991. Paper versus polystyrene, a complex choice.
Science, 251 (4993), 504-505.

Hocking, M.B. 1991. Relative merits of polystyrene foam and paper in
hot drink cups: Implications for packaging. Environmental Management
15 (6): 731-747.

Hocking, M.B. 1994. Disposable cups have eco-merit. Nature 369, 107,
May 12.

Hocking, M.B. 1994. Eco friendly cups? Nature, 371: 481-482, October

Hocking, M.B. 1994. Reusable and disposable cups: an energy-based
evaluation. Environmental Management 18 (6): 889-899.

So what do you think? Can I compost the plastic in a backyard
composter or will it just hang around in there forever? Are the cups
from the restaurants good options because they would go into the trash
if some group like my church didn't use them? Is there any benefit to
having people bring their own cups? Does the Styrofoam have as small
an impact as Dr. Hocking suggests? Is he receiving funding from Dow?

Perhaps my best bet is to leave the church alone and start a letter
writing campaign to the county to upgrade the composting to include

Any suggestions you have will be appreciated!

Shannon Ward
Huntersville, NC

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