Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Styrofoam cups are not green

In previous posts, I have talked about the big four R's: Reduce, Reuse, Renew, and Recycle. There are many ways to see the interdependence between these concepts, but for now, here are two examples:
 - If we are able to recycle, renew, and reuse, then we naturally reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill.

 - If we reduce the amount of disposable material we acquire, then we can focus on finding innovative ways to renew and reuse existing materials we possess.

Recently, we spent 2 days at our land in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and I had an eye-opening, very real example of why recycling is so important and how I am personally responsible for pollution.

On our way there we stopped at a our favorite food restaurant and purchased two large iced teas. We always do this. We like tea. It's refreshing. The cost is minimal. It comes in a Styrofoam cup that keeps the drink ice-cold. Stopping to buy a cold drink is a habit we started 16 years ago when we first started dating and had to travel several hours to see family members. We drink it; we throw away the cup. No dishes to wash, and no tea making mess at home. Quick and easy, right?

When we arrived at our land, the wind was blowing fiercely. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white and orange object tumbling rapidly, low near the ground, towards the brush. I ran over and picked up the large Styrofoam iced tea cup. I opened the car door, intending to put it in a garbage bag when I noticed that today's ice tea cups were still in the car. So, I deduced that this cup must have been left here on the land since our last trip 6 weeks ago. I compared today's cup with the cup I found on our land, and boy, was I surprised! They looked identical. Even though it had been left out in the rain, the scorching Texas sun (yes, even in winter), and the blustering wind, it had not aged a single bit.

I had a moment of clarity, "Wow, this cup will last forever."  Now, Styrofoam is a wonderful material for products we want to last forever, like home insulation.  However, this cup is disposable - you are supposed to throw it away after you use it. Anyone else here see the problem?  Why are disposables made of materials that don't decompose?

The answer is a simple economic equation called supply and demand. As long as we continue to make quick stops for refreshing drinks in "disposable" cups, companies will continue to sell them to us. How many of these cups have I thrown in the trash over the years? How many of these cups are produced, used, and thrown in the trash every year? Have any of them broken down yet or are they all still sitting in the landfill?

So, we have a new plan for our next trip. We will bring the ice chest and tea with us. Next time, we will pull into one of the rest stop parks, turn off the engine, and stretch our legs while we fix ourselves a cold ice tea in a glass. Heck, we might even sit on a park bench while we enjoy our tea.

This new plan eliminates buying disposable/non-compostable products and sitting in the car while it idles in the drive-through. This is just one more small way that we can all make a difference.

If you could vote on green issues, reducing pollution, and reducing costs, would you vote "yes"? Well, the truth is, we vote every time we make a purchase. Again, it's called supply and demand. So make every vote count. Where you can, try to reduce the amount of disposable/non-compostable products you purchase. Rethink habits and make small changes. Be innovative about reusing and renewing products. And, recycle!