Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Week 13: PS (#6)

I'm feeling very stream of consciousness right now, so don't expect any sort of transitional sentences. If you find one, it was probably an accident.

I have this childhood memory. My family gets some appliance that is wrapped in a warm blanket of Styrofoam end pieces and a large cardboard box. Once the appliance is out, my 7 year-old brother works like a rabid squirrel to craft the cardboard box into a fort for himself and his band of little plastic army guys. And then, for some strange reason, he shreds the Styrofoam into little tiny pieces.

Did he need more snow in his life? Would it serve as cover for he and his men in the imaginary tundra? My brother also went through a phase of slashing bananas on the kitchen counter while no one was looking--his own interpretation of Zorro, I think. You'll all be relieved to know that my brother is a fully functioning member of society. He has lots of good friends and is living happily in Los Angeles. He long ago gave up slashing bananas once he realized how tasty they were, but I haven't checked in with him on the destructive tendencies towards the plastic of the week.

Polystyrene: #6, white dragon, evil cloud, Styrofoam (Dow's brand), snow clams, burger blankets, cacahuate blancos, snowman poop...CD jewel cases & clear salad to-go containers are also made of PS, but I'm not going to focus on these (although this was new to me!)

Many folks don't even know polystyrene is a form of plastic, but it is by far the easiest to identify. If you don't know what it is, just check out the big white chunks included in this week's plastic pile. I swear I didn't plan it this way. My husband bought two garbage bins and he asked if the store could take back the polystyrene cushions because he knew I would give him "the look" when he got home. Even after he told them about the blog, they still looked at him as if he had 6 heads and refused to take the packaging back. So, now I am left with large chunks of my LEAST favorite plastic. I am experiencing my first real plastidepression. This is the first week that I have not been able to fit my week's worth of plastic into my tidy little milk crate. Foiled by the ostentatious, extruded "possible" carcinogen, #6. PS...I hate you. I'm beginning to understand the shredding tendencies...

So, let's revisit our friends at the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group (AKA, the American Chemistry Council). The PFPG touts polystyrene's sturdiness, cleanliness, convenience, and affordability (especially for those low income schools on a tight budget). In other words, if it weren't for polystyrene, the proverbial cafeteria lady would still have a job, we'd have less garbage output each day, and we'd have to eat food made by...people. Ick.

SO, I get it. I'm not completely blind. If a school wants to save money, they outsource their lunch program and to the untrained eye, they save loads of money looking through the foggy lenses of traditional economics. And it looks something like this:
  1. Mr. Delivery Man from Acme National Food dollies up milk crates loaded with neatly stacked #6 trays of food.
  2. These food trays are grouped by classroom and student couriers work in tandem with a very part-time "food coordinator" to get the trays delivered to each child.
  3. The sectioned food trays may contain: a white bagel (wrapped in plastic), a piece of fruit, a single-serve plastic bowl of Frosted Flakes or Cheerios, a pint of whole milk, and a plastic bag containing a napkin and plastic spoon (made of PS too) & straw.
  4. Students eat the bagel and the dry cereal and wash it all down with a sip of milk as they slam dunk their tray, utensils, napkin, packaging AND fruit into the garbage can.
  5. And that's just breakfast. We do the whole routine over again for lunch.
Considering this school had about 300 kids with around 90% on the lunch program, let's have fun making generalizations with arithmetic:
30 % of 300 = 270 students

270 x 2 polystyrene trays/day = 540 trays/day

540 trays x 5 days = 2,700 trays/week

540 trays x 185 school days = 99,900 trays to the incinerator each year.

99,900 x 67,291 (# of US public elementary schools) = 6.7 billion polystyrene trays to the GAR-BAHJ.

Just ONE KID has the potential to add up to 2,200 trays to that dinky classroom trash can throughout her/his K-5 experience.
(185 school days x 6 = 1,110 days x 2 trays/day)
This is, of course rough & speculative math...but it's fun, right? And that's just trays. Now, let's do the calculation for spoons & straws...just kidding.

Looking through the lenses of TRUE COSTS of this kind of a program, we have to consider many more factors in our equation that are currently currently considered externalities, but I digress.

Bottom line? Viva la Wonder Woman & Beatles Lunch boxes! Easier said than done for parent(s) working two jobs and coming home after their kids...

ANYWAY--back to the white dragon. I heard a story 10 years or so ago about a squiggly white anomaly seen from SPACE in China. The tale goes that it was a stream of polystyrene along the main train line. Anyone heard that story?

Like the majority of plastics, the economics of recycling polystyrene doesn't make much sense according to the ACC, BUT there are folks out there working to counter that argument. Check out this photo. It BLOWS my mind. Ah, the beauty of polystyrene...never as heavy as it looks.

I got this photo (and the two below) from a very interesting website:
Does anyone remember Shrinky Dinks? OK, so basically Styromelt (UK based) does something similar. It appears to market to businesses with large amounts of polystyrene waste. I WOULD LOVE to see them shrink this:
Into this:and then sell it to recyclers for use as diesel fuel or material for garden furniture?

There's also a publicly traded company in Florida recycling/reclaiming polystyrene through a different process. Blue Earth Solutions--scroll down the page to check out their video here.

If you click on anything from this post--CLICK HERE, tilt your neck 9o degrees and read page 3 of this document from the Department of Conservation in Cal-ee-fohn-yah. I've had my hunches about scrap value, but it's nice to see the numbers side by side--make sure you look at the value of polystyrene.

Generally, curbside recycling programs MAY take your polystyrene, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it is NOT recycled (right along with your yogurt containers and your #7's.) Once again, stop trying to make yourself feel better by stacking your recycling bin to the brim with the assumption that the magical recycling fairies will turn them all into park benches for sweet little old ladies. It ain't happenin' least not for the time being. Do yourself a favor and try and tap into what you buy, what you need, what you want. Will you die if you never drink out of a Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup again?

On the note of Dunkin Deezee's--I have to include one short rant. Why the &^%$ do they serve their iced coffee in a plastic cup and then slip it into a polystyrene cup? I'll tell you why. It's because human hands must NEVER be cold...not ever...because if they get cold, discomfort comes quickly. And once that discomfort sets in, everyone knows that death is sure to follow. I've seen it happen too many times. So, the next time you order an iced coffee (if you can call it coffee), just say--"I don't need the Styrofoam sleeve...I live life on the edge, my friend."

This practice is ridiculously excessive and they should only double cup it if people ask...and they should be taxed on it. We'll call it the Rachel Ray Pansy Hands Tax.

TRY THIS AT HOME: I found this on Grinning Planet. The next time you inherit some polystyrene, try squeezing some fresh lemon on it, let it sit, and see what happens. I haven't tried this yet, so I would love to know what happens...

I'll close with a childhood song:
"Oh, give me a home
Made of white Styrofoam.
Where the plasphalt paves our new way.
Where seldom is heard a sweet song from a bird
Cuz the air we breathe has tuned dark gray."
(Sunnye's bastardization of Higley & Kelley's original song "Home on the Range")

And with that, I bid you a fantastic week as my styrofoam stream of consciousness screeches to a halt at 12:25 am.


Song Anh Nguyen + Alison Cole said...

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 94, Section 323A shall hereby be amended as follows:

"..and provided further, that efforts to conserve the Commonwealth's polystyrene sources and uses shall be administered by imposing a retail tax on the doubling-up of polystyrene containers, and provided further, that the tax on said containers will be factored into the cost to consumer at the point of purchase. Failure of businesses to adhere to the law will result in investigatory hearings with a joint committee formed from elected servants of the Department of Public Health, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Department of Environmental Protection."

Sunnye said...

Ahhh--I LOVE IT.

Thanks Ladies.

MC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MC said...

About a year ago I wrote and email to Dunkin Donuts regarding their excessive use of Styrofoam cups - I stated that I will be boycotting their stores until they phase them out. I am still waiting for them to respond.

Sunnye said...

Ah Mark--thanks for the comment. I can't imagine DD will ever respond to you as they can most certainly afford to dispose of you like a cold cup of cheap joe. Now, if you multiplied your boycott by half of Boston's DD- drinking population, well...that's a donut of a different color.