Using the right product for the right job is not only smart, it’s less wasteful. By reducing or using only the number of plates, cups, utensils or containers we actually need, we cut down on the natural resources used to make them.
Plastic foodservice products work great—they keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold and hold up to sloppy foods. Wet foods, ketchup, sauces and juices don’t permeate the plate, so Sloppy Joes aren’t so sloppy anymore. All of this means our chicken strips and Diet Coke stay fresher longer, resulting in reduced food spoilage, fewer crushed cups and less leakage, all unnecessary wastes of time, money, energy and materials. After all, the primary purpose of foodservice packaging is to serve our food and prevent food waste and mess. (Ever leave a paper cup of soda pop in your car’s cup holder for a couple days? Yuck.)
Plastic foodservice cups are sturdy, and plastic foam cups insulate not just a little but a lot better than paper cups—even heavy paper cups—so we can do away with double cupping our coffee to keep from scalding our hands. And why add a corrugated cardboard sleeve around our tasty mocha latte just because the delicate cup doesn’t do the job on its own?
Imagine for a moment…what if we could create a food container that consumes very little material and energy to make, delivers our food on a cushion of air, keeps our food hot or cold and holds up to spicy chili, greasy french fries and scalding soups?? Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? But we’ve been using plastic foam cups, plates and containers for years—comprised roughly of 95% air—precisely because they are so efficient and effective at delivering our food when, where and how we want it for the way we live today.
Polystyrene foodservice packaging (the most commonly used plastic for foodservice) uses less energy and resources to manufacture than comparable paper-based products. For example, a polystyrene foam cup requires about 50% less energy to produce—and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions—than a similar coated paper-based cup with its corrugated sleeve.
Simply put: the less energy used, the less energy-related impact on the environment. (The manufacture of plastic foodservice products is incredibly energy efficient, using only a fraction of one percent of the nation’s natural gas and petroleum
And plastic cups and plates have gone on a bit of a diet over the years. For example, the average foam plate today requires 25% less plastic to produce it than it did in 1974. This “diet” is the result of innovation by plastics makers and is generally called source reduction; that is, a reduction in the amount of material that could become waste in the first place.
Plastic foam cups also weigh between two to five times less than comparable paper packaging products. This means fewer air emissions when trucking products to our local restaurant, store, school, hospital…leaving a lighter footprint.
Want to look into this further?
- 2011 study: “Polystyrene Foam Cups and Plates Use Less Energy, Water Than Paper or Corn-based Alternatives“
- Check out University of California at San Diego’s story that concluded that the popular plastic foam cup “has a smaller impact on the environment during its creation and use [than paper alternatives].”