Styrofoam Cups


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I went to work early yesterday for a Quality Management System Auditor meeting. I have been asked by upper management to serve on this committee as an auditor of our processes of producing a magazine. RR Donnelley is doing this in all their manufacturing plants and it is a way to make sure we have processes in place to produce our product and are following these processes to produce a quality product.

At this meeting were 18 individuals of our upper management that are the leaders of this QMS task. As I looked around the table of the 18 individuals, 9 of those had brought a beverage with them for the 2 hour meeting. Seven of those beverages were in a company provided styrofoam cup and the other two were plastic bottles, one was juice and the other was water. Throughout our plant are posters with environmental facts so that employees will turn off lights, use less water, and be mindful of our impact on the planet. That is what I find disturbing about the continued use of the styrofoam cups in our plant. I understand they are cheap and they are readily available so that if we have a customer in the plant we have a way to serve them coffee or tea, but this meeting room contains a kitchen equipped with a dishwasher so our company could provide the customer with a ceramic mug and then collect them at the end of the customer’s visit and put them in the dishwasher. Then, within the plant, encourage all employees to bring in a mug and wash it in our break rooms. In my own department, I am proud to say that many of my coworkers already do this. We have a policy in our work area that drinks are not allowed without a lid so that has forced the use of personal cups due to the company not providing lids to the styrofoam. Plus, our spillage is a problem around the keyboards on our computers.

According to the EPA’s blog, polystyrene is non-biodegradable which means that it will never go away. And if it does break up and “disipate” it runs the risk of contaminating our ground water and having harmful effects on the animals that might decide to eat it or to leach into the plants surrounding it. And it also releases chemicals into our air.

In 1986, the EPA identified 57 chemical byproducts that were released into the air through its production and many of the pollutants are known to cause serious health effects such as the reduced functioning of the lungs and nervous systems. Check out Earth’s Resource’s website to learn about the ways polystyrene can affect our health and environment.

Green Irene offers a sugarcane biodegradable product that is similar to the styrofoam cups but when I researched this product last year for the Friends of the North Fork’s Fish Fry you have to find a facility that composts this product in order to compost the product. You can’t just put it in you outdoor compost bin and they disappear in 90 days. My facility was about 3 hours away and we would have had to transport the used product to the facility, which defeats the purpose of composting locally. We chose to talk to our caterer about using “real” dishes and have them wash them and place pitchers of water on each table to eliminate the need for bottled water.

So, my recommendation to my workplace would be to eliminate the styrofoam cups and encourage employees to bring in their own mugs or stainless steel water bottles. I do. I also have a container that I now take to restaurants with me so that I can avoid the styrofoam take out container. I got it at and you can see it here. I usually ask for a piece of foil or wax paper to go on top if there isn’t one on my table.

So if those 7 employees that were using the styrofoam cups decide to use a new cup every workday at 5 days per week, for 52 weeks per year (not including their vacation time) that would be about 1820 cups used. We can only hope the two plastic bottles in the room got recycled, right?