You Can’t Win In the Paper-Vs-Plastics Debates

Sometimes you just can’t win.

McDonalds announced last fall that it will replace polystyrene foam hot beverage cups with paper-based cups at all its 14,000 U.S. McCafe restaurants. The giant food chain recently announced that in two years it intends to start using sustainable beef, as defined by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. 20120320_mcdonaldscup.jpg

But The Pew Charitable Trusts sent out an advisory this morning that “the Roundtable’s draft standards do not tackle the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms, a huge missed opportunity to help battle the global antibiotic resistance crisis.”

And the media has started running articles pointing out that the shift from styrene foam to paper may not be so smart from an environmental perspective after all.

An article in the Boston Globe on April 2 was headlined: “Why paper cups just aren’t greener”.  An article this month in the Wall Street Journal states: “paper cups aren’t as environmentally friendly as they seem. Only about 11 percent of recycling plants in the U.S. currently can recycle them.”

None of this, of course, is news.

In 2007, the Washington Post run an article stating that it takes more than four times as much energy to produce paper than plastic.  Production of paper generates 70 percent more air pollution than plastic and 50 times more water pollution.

There are third-party research reports going back more than 25 years that clearly showed the environmental benefit of plastic versus paper. No one ever wanted to believe them. Or for that matter would even listen.

Non degradability is the big rap on plastic, but most of those paper cups are coated with plastic.  Toxics? Massive discharges of chlorine into the Great Lakes or the potential of styrene monomer leaching from a coffee cup? Read the scientific reports on the health impacts. You pick.  






About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News
Consumer Goods, Green

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