New Foam Cup Study

October 15, 2012

According to a new study conducted by a leading Dutch research institute, single-use cups, such as polystyrene foam cups, are generally less harmful to the environment than the re-usable cup alternatives. The study conducted by TNO (the Netherlands Organization of Applied Scientific Research) compared the environmental impact of single-use cups to that of re-usable cups.

The study states that the amount of washing required with a re-usable cup causes it to be less environmentally friendly than a single-use cup. In order for a re-usable cup to do less damage to the environment than its single-use cup alternative, it would have to be used more than four times in a row without a single washing. While the amount of water used and household cleaning products make for a clean drinking vessel, the impact on the environment is harsher than the impact of a single-use cup.

After evaluating single-use cups, the TNO study concludes that the production requirements and use of raw materials are the main contributors to their overall environmental impact. However, by reducing the amount of raw materials used in the production of single-use cups it is possible to not only reduce the impact of their production, but also the amount of material being sent to landfills. Recycling single-use cups also prevents unnecessary waste from being sent to landfills.

Recycling systems for single-use cups are continuing to evolve and are finding ways to reduce the product’s overall impact on the environment. In an earlier study, TNO evaluated Retoursysteem®, a recycling system where cups are collected and recycled into raw material to be used to make other products, and found this to be a good option for waste prevention.

Dart Container Corporation is another company innovating the way single-use foam cups are recycled. The CARE (Cups Are REcyclable) and Recycla-Pak programs make it easy for any company or organization to recycle foam cups. The CARE program provides users with a densifying device, which compresses foam cups to a fraction of their original size. Dart then collects the densified foam and recycles it into new products. The outcome of this effort is similar to that of the Retoursysteem®.

The results of the TNO study indicate that the use of single-use cups, such as polystyrene foam cups, leaves less of an impact on the environment than the use of re-usable cups. The study also provides evidence that options for single-use cup recycling continues to grow and provides consumers with more choices when it comes to waste management and their impact on the environment. While the Retoursysteem® and CARE programs make recycling single-use cups easier than ever, companies such as Dart are educating consumers and improving the accessibility to single-use foam cup recycling systems.