|MadSci Network: Environment & Ecology|
Steph and Tyler, As with most questions about the environment, the answer usually begins with "it depends". So here goes. You ask if styrofoam is worse for the environment then paper or reusable plates. Well it depends, paper producuts are often made from trees that have been grown on a farm, so the trees were meant to be cut and thus do not effect forests. Also paper can be recycled fairly easily. But paper takes a lot of water to produce and often chlorine is used in the manufactoring proccess which can cause several environmental problems. Reusable dishes have some obvious advantages. They do not take up land fill space and they only need to be made once, so they use less energy and raw material to produce. As for cleaning, it is my opinion(and others) that if an energy efficient washer is used and is full so that many dishes are being washed with the same water, then this option is probably best. However, as with most environmental issues it is not perfect. For instace, you must use a detergent which has historically caused some problems, although with modern formulations the problems are reduced. I have one article that deals with styrofoam. It is from E-Magazine, which is not really a true "scientific" journal, but I have found it to be accurate (see below). It does not really cover your question exactly ( I could not find an article that addresses the water issue) but I think you will find it interesting. In conclusion, it is my profesional opinion (I am a hazardouos materials scientist for the California Environmental Protection Agency)that although not perfect, reusable dishes are probably best for the environment as well as for human health. Good luck with you research. E-Magazine November/December 1998 Styrofoam is actually Dow's trade name for polystyrene. There are two problems with polystyrene, involving both production and waste. During production, a blowing agent blows gas into the polystyrene. For years, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the agents--contributing to the destruction of the Earth's ozone layer. After the Montreal Protocol's ban on CFCs, slightly-more benign HCFCs replaced them. However, Ozone Action's Christopher Ball notes, "HCFCs are better for the ozone layer than CFCs, but they still cause problems." Because of this, HCFCs have also recently been banned, with their total phasing-out not expected until the year 2030. Carbon dioxide and pentane (a highly flammable chemical that contributes to smog) are also used as blowing agents. On the waste issue, polystyrene products, including cups, don't biodegrade well and, if incinerated, produce toxic ash. To combat such problems, recycling programs are popping up, but not yet everywhere. The web page of the Polystyrene Packaging Council lists available facilities. Drinking from reuseable mugs, however, is an easy way to reduce such waste problems and ease pressures on the ozone layer. If people can't be convinced to change their throw-away habits, try telling them that the mugs can save them money, too. Many national chains such as Starbucks and 7-11, and many college dining facilities, offer discounts to customers providing their own mugs. From E/Magazine Nov/Dec 1998
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