The folks over at Consumerist
are having a good chuckle about the new ad campaign on Sam’s Club’s disposable polystyrene cups. No matter how much less that polystyrene cup weighs, styrofoam cups have such a bad reputation in the eco-world that it is a big leap for consumers to accept that they might actually have some environmental benefits over paper cups.
Admittedly, that ad does look ridiculous, but it turns out that Sam’s Club has actually done their homework.
Sam’s Club has chosen to use Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to make greener choices in the product materials they select. A life cycle analysis considers the environmental impact of a product over its life span from production through shipment, use and disposal. Sam’s Club considered paper and PLA (corn based) cups in addition to these polystyrene ones. They found that while the PLA and paper cups could be created from renewable materials, they both require more energy to produce and ship than the polystyrene cup option. There are also few municipalities that will accept paper and PLA cups for composting, which means that they are likely to end up in a landfill anyway. The polystyrene cups take less energy to produce and ship, and when they end up in a landfill, they’ll take up less space than their paper or PLA brethren.
Here’s what the Sam’s Club LCA revealed about cup materials:
*The polystyrene cup generates 60% less solid waste, by weight, than a typical similar-sized paper cup.
*An average wax-coated paper cup requires about 190% more energy to produce than an average polystyrene cup.
*An average wax-coated paper cup produces nearly 475% more waste, by weight than an average polystyrene cup.
In a carbon constrained world, the polystyrene cups do seem like the winning choice. However, all this information is far too much to fit on the side of a soda cup, unless that cup is ultra ultra super sized.
An ad on a disposable cup describing how much less waste it produces than other disposable cups is pretty laughable. Sam’s Club would have been better off advertising the energy saved with the production of these cups or directing customers to their website where the LCA process is described in more detail. Better yet, and I know I’m reaching for the stars here, they could be promoting reusable cups.
Jen slings 100% post consumer recycled paper for the Union of Concerned Scientists, but she’s not representing said scientists on this blog. Of course, she fully intend to swipe facts and figures from their materials in addition to her own research as an MBA student in Sustainable Management. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org