1. What about foam litter?

We all know that litter is just plain bad. What many people, however, are unwilling to admit, is that litter is a “people issue” not a product issue.

Litter is misplaced waste, often blown by the wind, floating through storm drains or accumulating along curbs or fences. It is estimated that in some areas half the litter accumulation consists of cigarette butts. Studies also indicate that most littering occurs within 5 meters (16.5 feet) of a garbage can. 80% of marine debris originates on land!

The remaining 20% consists of lost cargo and refuse from freightliners, cruise ships and fishing vessels.

The many web sites, studies, and organizations dedicated to studying and solving litter problems make no mention of blaming products. Condemning a product and removing it from use simply because of its potential to become litter is an unrealistic approach to the problem. Under those circumstances the following items found during litter clean-up days would no longer be available to consumers: appliances, bottles, car parts, fishing line, shoes, mattresses, syringes and other medical waste, furniture, and toys.

The only true solution to litter is to change the behavior of those who litter and enforce the laws that prohibit this behavior. According to Keep America Beautiful (KAB), “Laws and ordinances that improve a community’s quality of life are ineffective unless they’re enforced. Enforcement is not only the role of the police department.

It is most effective when police work in partnership with the community and its citizens, local public agencies and the courts.” The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) has many resources available for the anti-litter efforts in your community. Keep America Beautiful, at its website, www.kab.org, offers a program to aid communities in assessing litter problems, addressing the issue, and measuring results.

Dart Container Corporation and others in plastics manufacturing are signatories to a voluntary “best practices” industry program, Operation Clean Sweep (OCS).

Plastic resin pellets, if not properly managed and contained on land, can be swept into our waterways via stormwater drains and make their way out into rivers, lakes, and oceans. They become another form of pollution and in large quantity can also be deadly to marine life. OCS practices have as their goal Zero Pellet Loss and the program is designed to help plastic manufacturers, processors, and transporters implement the practices that will get them to zero.

Please visit www.marinedebrissolutions.org to learn more on the issue of marine debris, what the plastics industry is doing to minimize the generation of litter in the waterways, and what all of us can do as well.

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2. What about disposal and landfill issues?

MSW 2010 Rev. Factsheet

Compared with many other materials, polystyrene comprises a small percentage of both the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated and disposed. In fact, all polystyrene plastic products represent less than 1% of all products generated, by weight, in municipal solid waste. The polystyrene foodservice category includes items such as cups, plates, bowls, trays, clamshells, meat trays, egg cartons, yogurt and cottage cheese containers, and cutlery.

Although greater amounts of municipal solid waste (MSW) have been recycled and composted in the last forty years, the majority of MSW generated in the United States is still safely disposed of in landfills.

Contrary to popular public belief, waste materials do not readily biodegrade in modern landfills. Today’s modern MSW landfills are not like compost piles, where the purpose is to bury trash in such a way that it will decompose quickly. Today’s modern MSW landfills are designed to discourage biodegradation by isolating the waste from oxygen, sunlight, and water.

Modern landfills are well-engineered facilities that are regulated under strict federal and state regulations to ensure protection of human health and the environment. Because biodegradation can lead to the release of harmful methane gas or leachate, which can contaminate groundwater, it is actually preferable to place non-biodegradable rather than biodegradable products in landfills.

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3. Are foam products biodegradable?

Engineers design modern landfills to discourage biodegradation by removing oxygen, sunlight, and water.

Ironically, one beneficial feature of polystyrene foam is that it does not biodegrade significantly. Because biodegradation can lead to the release of harmful methane gas or leachate, which can contaminate groundwater, it is preferable to place non-biodegradable rather than biodegradable products in landfills.

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4. Can polystyrene foam products be recycled?

Yes. Foam # 6 is a thermoplastic, which means that it can be completely recycled.

From a technical standpoint, converting foam into recycled pellets is very easy. And by using widely available compactors specifically designed for foam (densifiers), it is economically feasible to load 40,000 pounds of foam on a 48’ trailer to transport the material to a recycling facility.

Because technological advancements with densifiers make foam recycling more viable, some cities have started adding foam to their curbside and drop-off collection programs. More information about recycling locations in North America can be found below within question 5.

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5. Where can I recycle my foam cups and containers?

In the United States, Dart customers can participate in Dart's CARE program or Recycla-Pak program to take advantage of foam recycling.

The first program, CARE (Cups Are REcyclable), provides larger users of foam products with an integrated, efficient method of recycling. The customer pays a monthly service fee and is then provided with a densifier to compact post-consumer foam foodservice products (e.g., cups, plates, bowls, clam shell containers) into a cylinder for convenient storage and transportation. The cylinder is then backhauled on a Dart truck for reprocessing at a Dart recycling facility. More Details.

The second program, Recycla-Pak, is a mail-back program designed for beverage service on a smaller scale. The program enables businesses to purchase a container that serves as a collection device and shipping container. Pre-paid shipping is included in the purchase price. The cups are then recycled in a Dart or industry facility. More Details.

More communities are now accepting clean foam foodservice containers in their curbside recycling programs than ever before. For a list of cities that recycle, go to www.HomeForFoam.com.

In Canada, foam cups and containers can be and are currently being recycled. In fact, in Ontario, approximately 90 municipalities, representing over 50 percent of all households in the province, have access to blue box recycling programs (both curbside and depot collection) that collect post-consumer foam cups and containers. Also, the City of Toronto added foam cups and food containers to the City's Blue Box program in December 2008.

In addition, Dart currently operates foam #6 drop-off locations at fifteen North American production plants for anyone who wishes to recycle foam products. Our equipment is capable of reprocessing 12 million pounds of foam products annually. More Details.

To see if there is a location that recycles foam #6 near you, go to www.earth911.com and search "#6 Plastic (Polystyrene)" and "Styrofoam."

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6. Why choose foam products instead of paper?

foam paper cup waste comparison

Foam insulates better than paper. Paper cup users frequently use two cups together for hot beverages to protect their hands, or wrap layers of paper napkins around the cup. “Double cupping” an average-weight polyethylene (PE) plastic-coated paperboard cup results in over twice as much energy use and solid waste by volume, over five times as much solid waste by weight, and nearly twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the use of a single average- weight polystyrene cup.

Professor Martin Hocking, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, has performed a study of foam and paper single service products. The results of his study were summarized succinctly in a Wall Street Journal article in 1991: “[Hocking’s] analysis…finds that the environmental impact from the chemicals and energy used in making paper cups, as well as the emissions from incinerating or burying paper cups, exceeds the impact of making and disposing of cups made of plastic foam.”

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7. How are foam foodservice products made?

Polystyrene

Polystyrene is made from styrene, a petroleum by-product, through a chemical reaction process known as polymerization.

Manufacturing

Dart Container employs two distinct types of processing to make its products:
1. Steam chest molding of expandable polystyrene (EPS).
2. Extrusion of polymer followed by thermoforming to achieve a final product.

Steam Chest Molding

Dart foam cups are made from expandable polystyrene (EPS). The first step in making EPS is impregnating small beads of polystyrene with an expansion agent, usually pentane. The molding process begins with limited expansion of the EPS by contact with steam in a pre-expander. The resulting “prepuff” forms the final product in a mold, also heated by steam that further expands and fuses the prepuff to its final shape and density.

Extrusion/Thermoforming

There are three classes of product in this second category:

  1. Impact — Dinnerware, cold cups, portion containers, and lids are produced from extruded sheets of impact-modified polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate, or polypropylene that are formed into final products in a thermoforming process utilizing heat and vacuum.
  2. Oriented Polystyrene (OPS) — General Purpose (GP) polystyrene is extruded into a sheet that passes through an orienting device, which stretches or “orients” the sheet to achieve strength. This oriented sheet is then thermoformed into a final product. The strength and clarity of OPS products is useful for packaging such items as baked goods, salads, and “deli” products. Our customers value the superior clarity of Dart’s OPS products.
  3. Extruded Foam — Dart also produces foam in a direct injection foam (DIF) process that involves an expansion or blowing agent added to the polymer during extrusion. The resulting foam provides both strength and insulation properties. Most of this product line has the typical pure white of expanded foam, but limited colors are available. Products made from this material include dinnerware and hinged trays.

Blowing Agents

Polystyrene foam foodservice products are not manufactured with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or any other ozone-depleting chemicals.[i]

The most common blowing agents today are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as pentane. Unlike CFCs, pentane does not affect the upper ozone layer, but does contribute to impurities in the lower level of the atmosphere. State and federal authorities, through laws and regulations, limit the amount of VOC emissions allowed, depending on regional air quality issues. To meet the permitted limits of these regulations, many manufacturers use state-of-the-art technology to reduce pentane emissions. Whenever possible, Dart uses such technology to capture and destroy VOCs, and, where technically feasible, to capture and reuse pentane.

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[i] Judd H. Alexander, In Defense of Garbage [Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993] 55

8. Can foam products be used in a microwave oven?

Proper use of Dart polystyrene plastic cups or containers in a microwave oven is fine, as long as they are not overheated. The performance of Dart products in a microwave, however, may vary depending upon the type of food being heated, the length of heating time, and the intensity of the microwave oven.

Typically, microwaves act to heat the water within a food or beverage. This heat is then transferred to the entire food or beverage contents. Since polystyrene cups or containers themselves do not contain water within their molecular structure, they are unaffected by the microwaves. If the container’s temperature changes, it is only because of the increasing heat of the liquid or solid they contain. Be aware that food with a high sugar or fat content (or both) can raise the boiling temperature to over the normal 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If cooked or heated too long, some foods can soften the container, leading to a mess in the microwave oven and danger of burns from hot food or liquid. Periodic checking on food or beverages during the reheating process is recommended to prevent damage to the container.

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