The Truth About Foam

April 13, 2012

Foam, sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘Styrofoam®’ which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, is one of our most valuable products because foam is inexpensive and safe to use. Most hospitals use foam products because foam products minimize exposure to bacteria and other foodborne pathogens compared to reusables. Foam is recyclable while also providing many consumer benefits. Foam products are lightweight, sturdy, inexpensive, and insulated.

Foam cups can be recycled. Dart Container Corporation has 15 recycling centers in North America. There are many consumer and small and big business solutions for recycling foam. Dart has two recycling programs, CARE (Cups Are REcyclable) and Recycla-Pak. Both programs are designed to make recycling foam as convenient as possible.

A common misconception about foam is that producing foam releases ozone depleting chemicals; however, the truth is that foam production does not use CFCs, which is an ozone depleting chemical. In fact, Dart Container Corporation has never used CFCs to produce foam.[i]

Another common misconception is that foam is filling up our landfill, but the truth is that foam foodservice products makes up less than 1% by both weight and volume of our landfill waste.[ii] Those same consumers also think paper cups are biodegradable in landfills; however, the truth is that most modern landfills are constructed to discourage biodegradation because biodegradation can generate methane gas and leachate.

Paper cups are often coated with plastic. If a paper cup is coated in plastic it means that the cup is seldom recycled. Most paper cups have a plastic coating in order to retain liquid. Not to mention that the typical foam cup requires about 1/3 less energy to produce than a similar coated paper hot cup with a corrugated sleeve.

Foam cups insulate so well. Foam cups, unlike paper cups, don’t need a cardboard sleeve to make the cup comfortable to hold. Foam cups also don’t require layering tactics to keep hands safe from hot drinks. Paper cups are often layered (two cups put together or a cardboard sleeve placed over the cup) in order to keep hands from burning when touching the cup.

  • An average-weight paper cold cup generates 148% more solid waste by weight than a comparable foam cup.
  • An average-weight paper hot cup with a cardboard sleeve requires 47% more energy to produce than a comparable foam cup.[iii]


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

[ii] United States Environmental Protection Agency, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States 2010 Facts and Figures, November 2011, Table 3

[iii] Franklin Associates, Ltd., Final Peer-Reviewed Report: Life Cycle Inventory of Polystyrene Foam, Bleached Paperboard, and Corrugated Paper Foodservice Products (Prepared for the Polystyrene Packaging Council, March 2006), Table 2-10, p. 2-23, Table 2-11, p. 2-24.