GRN Recycle Talk FAQ

Date: Wed Jul 09 1997 - 04:58:00 EDT

Date: Wed, 9 Jul 97 09:58 WET DST
Subject: Re: Polyethylene-covered plastic cups (Sheryl de Cabrera)

July 9, 1997

Dear Sheryl de Cabrera,

The industry for whom you are evidently working - the fast food industry - has been hiring objective scientists to conduct studies showing that there is no preference between paper and plastic when different aspects of the life cycle analysis that needs to be performed, are emphasized, for many years. For that reason, the issue has become a political one. To follow precedent, your industry should pay for its own study and follow the advice rendered. The study will have much literature to follow on and should therefore not be too costly.
Here s what the other voices have had to say:

US EPA: neither paper nor plastic packaging is preferable; neither plastic nor paper cups are preferable. Reuseables are preferable.

The best independent voice on the subject dealt not with cups but with packaging. That was by Tellus Institute, Boston, MA, 11/91 for the Council of State Governments, Lexington, KY called The Tellus Institute Packaging Study.

None of the studies deals with tropical conditions, which is why I suggest that your industry conduct its own study.

As to degradability. Styrofoam does not degrade appreciably for a long time. Paper does degrade in the short term, waxed paperboard in a longer term, but still shorter than polystyrene. Does this mean anything? Not really.

A standard test for recyclability would have to be a life cycle analysis, looking at full environmental costs of manufacture, use, waste management, and recycling of each.

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