eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Recycling foam cups. Does it make foam green?

Posted by Luke on January 12, 2010

Foam has been viewed as the evil material for years in the eyes of consumers.  Legislators in 30+ municipalities across the country have banned foam (expanded polystyrene) for use in foodservice products like cups, containers, etc.  I can never help but heckle restaurant employees when they bring me a foam takeout container. 

With all of the growing negative sentiment about foam, the industry is trying to make changes to the end-of-life story to try to give it a green, shall I say, “tint?”  At restaurant industry tradeshows, I’ve noticed manufacturers of foam products have found a way to put a green spin on foam by boasting that it’s recyclable.  Technically, they’re right, foam is recyclable.  In fact, a lot of products are technically considered recyclable.  The problem is that not all “recyclable” products are accepted by recycling facilities.  For example, clear plastic PET cups are technically recyclable.  They are made from the same material as water bottles.  However, cups aren’t recyclable in virtually 98% of the recycling facilities across the country, mainly due to their shape.  

Despite this borderline, or maybe flat-out greenwashing by the majority of foam manufacturers, I commend one company – Dart Container Corp. – for taking some pretty big steps to attempt to close the loop on foam recycling.  Dart has been opening up foam recycling facilities across the country.  These facilities collect used foam cups and containers, compact them, regrind them, and attempt to turn them back into usable foam material again.  The material isn’t processed in a manner that will allow for FDA approval, and there are still some questions as to the real benefits.  But I say good job for at least trying to cultivate a recycling program.

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