U weighs ecology issues

Kathryn Herzog

From the grocery store checkout line to the local coffee shop, environmentally conscious consumers are forced to choose between saving old-growth forests or the world’s supply of petroleum.
But for many University Food Service customers, the decision has already been made.
Every month, more than 150,000 polystyrene cups — also known by the trademark Styrofoam — are purchased by University Food Service. Paper cups are no longer ordered.
According to University Food Services Purchasing Manger Bonnie Martin, the move to polystyrene was a step in the right direction, despite the environmental controversy surrounding the product.
“We wanted to decrease costs, and by going with one vendor we could negotiate our price,” said Martin. “There’s always a trade-off with these kinds of things.” Martin said the idea to have a University logo on the cups was another incentive, and one that the new vendor, Sweetheart Cup Company Inc., could provide.
The University’s program to recycle foam products was abandoned after University health inspectors deemed the process unsanitary. The program also seemed to defer the plastic disposal problem, since most plastic items can only be manufactured from virgin plastic. Recycled polystyrene can be used to build marine docks but not to make a new foam cup.
Until recently, many polystyrene products were made with chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s, which deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Most makers have switched to CFC substitutes, including hydrofluorocarbons, or HFC’s. Although they are less detrimental to the ozone, HFC’s are known to contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Although the production and disposal of paper products is just as messy, many environmentalists say most toxic effluent produced by paper mills can be avoided by omitting chlorine, which bleaches the pulp. The chlorine byproduct, organochlorine, is a known carcinogen.
But polystyrene cannot be made out of less toxic substances.
Polystyrene is made from benzene, also known to cause cancer and central nervous system damage.
Department of Soil, Water and Climate Professor Tom Halbock said most people use paper or polystyrene based on the assumption that one is better than the other.
“Every choice has environmental impacts,” said Halback. “If you feel it’s important to save petroleum, you would want to use paper. If you’re worried about the trees, use polystyrene.”
Halbock said paper can take years to biodegrade. He said products like polystyrene offer chemical stability to landfills, preventing groundwater contamination.
“It’s easy to say ‘Go fill a landfill and let people in the future take care of it,'” said Halbock. “What should be of most importance right now is waste minimization.”
Portage Market Supervisor Stephanie Toland has worked for Food Services for two years. She said at least two to three customers every day request paper cups.
Although Toland said she understands peoples’ motives for not using polystyrene cups, she said she wonders how environmentally conscious they really are.
“It’s kinda funny,” said Toland. “People think they’re being environmentally conscious when they ask for paper, but then they ask for plastic lids to go on it.”
According to University Recycling Coordinator, Dana Donatucci, about 30 percent of the University’s solid waste stream is recycled. He said the solution to campus waste problems is reusable cups and dinnerware, a practice clouded by theft problems at the University and high replacement costs. This year, 14,000 reusable mugs were sold by Food Services. Customers receive a 20-cent discount on pop or soda when they bring in any reusable cups.