Many people believe paper cups, because they come from trees, to be a better environmental choice than polystyrene foam. These same people are surprised to learn that paper cups are lined with plastic on one side (and sometimes two sides) so they can hold liquids. Still, an unscientific bias remains.
Careful comparisons, however, have shown this paper halo may be undeserved. For example, when you compare the manufacture of polystyrene foam hot beverage cups to the manufacture of comparable average-weight polyethylene (PE) plastic-coated paperboard hot cups with corrugated cup sleeves, an average-weight polystyrene hot beverage cup requires about one third less energy to produce as a comparable average-weight polyethylene (PE) plastic-coated paperboard hot cup with a corrugated cup sleeve.* Also, when you compare the manufacturing process of polystyrene foam cold beverage cups to the manufacturing process of representative-weight wax-coated paperboard cold cups, an average-weight polystyrene cold beverage cup requires approximately half as much energy to produce as a representative-weight wax-coated paperboard cup.
In addition, compared to an average-weight polystyrene hot beverage cup, an average-weight polyethylene (PE) plastic-coated paperboard hot beverage cup generates almost three times as much total waste by weight, and an average-weight polyethylene (PE) plastic-coated paperboard cold beverage cup generates almost two and one-half times as much total waste by weight as an average-weight polystyrene cold beverage cup.§
The three life-cycle inventories below have reached this conclusion. Although they were completed some time ago, the manufacturing processes have not changed much, and to our knowledge, no other studies comparing plastic-lined paper and polystyrene foam have been completed and made public as these have.
From the top, they are
a study of coated bleached paperboard food packaging and PS foam food packaging;
a study comparing the energy usage of manufacture of ceramic, glass, and solid plastic reusable cups with PS foam and coated paper cups; and finally,
Most paper foodservice products are no more degradable than foam.
The manufacture of foam hot beverage cups requires less energy than comparable plastic-coated paperboard products.
Plastic-coated paper cups don't insulate as efficiently as foam cups.
Foam foodservice products can be recycled.
Dart recovers waste heat from its manufacturing processes and uses it to heat buildings and boiler feed water.
Dart operates 15 foam recycling collection centers in North America and the UK.
Dart's sustainability efforts save enough energy each year to heat nearly 105,000 homes.
Dart foam products are not manufactured with CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).
We welcome your comments and questions on our products' relationship with the environment and will get back to you as soon as possible. If you are inquiring about a particular product, go to our Main Contact Page.