The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


Once again, we confront the First Law, this time Solo

OK, so, once again we come across McGee's First Law, which states "Everything is more complicated than it at first appears to be, even when McGee’s First Law is taken into account."  This is occasioned by McDonalds's reintroduction of Styrofoam cups for some of their beverages.

"Eeek!" some of you have said.  I've heard you.  Three vowels, a stop plosive, and a bang.  Gotcha.  So many of us for so many years shunned polystyrene.  We'd crumple if an event used Styrofoam cups instead of, say, Solo cups.  We might not even pour a cup of coffee into a Styrofoam cup, but punch into a red "plastic cup"?  Sure!

So, a few things:

  1. Polystyrene is no longer produced with CFCs.  Those are what were destroying the ozone layer, not the plastic itself.
  2. We're not supposed to burn polystyrene, right?  Cancer?  Well, that's still true -- some nasty PAHs are released -- but with a high enough temperature of a furnace, burning polystyrene is cleaner than burning a lot of other things.  The biggest nastiness is the carbon soot.
  3. Polystyrene is recyclable.  Check the bottom of the clamshell in your refrigerator.  It's "#6" -- PS.  Most of it is not recycled, because it is so bulky relative to its weight, but there is a dearth of polystyrene scrap such that that the construction industry, which could consume a great amount of it, has to buy virgin PS to make into groundsheets and filler.
  4. Here's the kicker: Solo cups are also polystyrene.  For real.  Check the resin identification code if you don't believe me.
  5. So, "more complicated" indeed.  What I recommend is that you recycle PS (especially if you have a place within walking distance, which I do), but don't buy it -- "Styrofoam cups" or "plastic cups" -- for your parties.  What do I suggest?  Well, polypropylene ("#5 plastic") rocks.  It's what Rubbermaid containers are made out of.  It's easily recycled, is strong, durable, resistant to heat, moisture, and corrosion, yet is more easily broken down by UV rays than many other plastics.  You can get polypropylene cups at the 99¢ store for, um, 99¢, but the best choice for me is a fast-food joint, where you can also get them for about a buck, and they'll even throw in a free fill-up of Coca-Cola for you!  (Polypropylene is what the "plastic drink cups" are made of.)  If you don't go to fast food "restaurants", go to their trash bins.  If that's icky, go to garage sales, where you can usually get them for free, or a dime apiece.  Wash them, store them, give them to guests at parties to use.  If you are embarrassed to do this, I don't think you've really grokked the whole recycling thing yet.

2 Responses to Once again, we confront the First Law, this time Solo

  1. Amal says:

    Nice, informative post. Thank you, Josh.

  2. Thank you, Josh.

    And from a professional chemist!  I blush!  :-)

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