Styrofoam Cups: Ban or Recycle?

By Dr Joseph S Maresca  

Major municipalities like New York and others in the United States face the prospect of citizens creating a growing amount of trash because of population increases, wasteful product packaging, and materials which defy decomposition.

Styrofoam cups are an example of inorganic materials which defy easy styrofoam cupsbreakdown for recycling purposes. Seattle has banned these styrofoam cups with cities like New York likely soon to follow. Generally speaking, organically based materials may be disposed of more easily by natural processes like composting.

Right now, the restaurant industry in New York City is gearing up to thwart an effort by legislators to ban styrofoam cups.

Inorganic materials like styrofoam require a mechanical intervention in order to reduce waste to a more manageable form. Herein lies the need for enhanced polystyrene methods which can accomplish the requisite separation to facilitate recycling more cost effectively. The stakes are high for the environment, but the restaurant industry is set to lock horns with New York City over the styrofoam banning issue.

On the other hand, London has been successful in reprocessing styrofoam if it is cleaned first. Modern materials science has advanced to the point where polystyrene polymers can be dissolved in an organic solvent. A heated solution is transformed into a gaseous spray to separate the polystyrene more cost-effectively. As a result, the restaurant industry can look to new polystyrene separation methods to reduce styrofoam waste to manageable levels.

Existing recycling processes for glass, metal cans and plastic bottles have met with greater success and public acceptance. For example, glass, metal and plastic bottles can be crushed at receiving sites in exchange for a modest refund of a nickel per recycled item.

As the population in the United States continues to grow, recycling will become a bigger issue. The public has a vested interest in limiting trash because of finite storage space. In addition, waste must be minimized to reduce or eliminate diseases which thrive on organic and inorganic decomposition. The technological reprocessing enhancements for styrofoam represent a new frontier for cities like New York to explore in the continuing effort to reduce waste efficiently and cost-effectively.

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