Even though the cost of alternatives is significantly higher, Dining Services at Virginia Tech is seeking to ban polystyrene foam cups at campus dining halls, beginning this fall. The cost of the proposed compostable cups can be up to 10 cents more per unit than polystyrene cups.
Not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, polystyrene foam is most often used in foodservice products like carryout containers, egg cartons, coffee cups, and lids. It’s easily identified by the #6 chasing arrows symbol stamped on the products.
Dining Services’ sustainability manager, Gwyneth Manser, expanded on the budgeting challenges of switching to alternatives. “(Ten cents) doesn’t seem like a lot,” she said, “but when you’re dealing with 60,000 16-ounce cups a year, that number ads up really quickly.”
A focus on recycling
A simple solution to the budgeting concerns could be an emphasis on recycling rather than a ban. A common misconception is that polystyrene foam products are not recyclable, but that simply isn’t the case. Foam is already recycled in select areas across the country, including communities in Virginia.
When properly recycled, polystyrene foam can be remade into products like picture frames, interior crown molding, garden nursery trays, rulers, and ballpoint pens.
A ban will only hurt Dining Services, leading to cost repercussions that could limit menu choices or raise prices.