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OM in the News: Your Foam Coffee Cup Is Fighting for Its Life

February 12, 2020

Dart’s single-use containers.

The Dart Container Corporation, which makes foam products, is a manufacturing behemoth and produced a fortune for the family behind it. Dart makes, by the millions, white foam cups, clamshells, coffee cup lids, and disposable forks and knives — the single-use containers that enable Americans to eat and drink on the go. It employs 15,000 people across 14 states. But now many of its products are being labeled as environmental blights contributing to the world’s plastic pollution problem, writes The New York Times (Feb. 11, 2020).

Cities and states are increasingly banning one of Dart’s signature products, foam food and beverage containers, which can harm fish and other marine life. Maine and Maryland banned polystyrene foam containers last year, and nearly 60 nations have enacted or are in the process of passing similar prohibitions. Environmental groups say polystyrene containers are difficult to recycle in any meaningful way. They believe the harm that plastic pollution can inflict on marine life is immediate. “There is overwhelming evidence that this material is seriously damaging the earth,” said a Maryland lawmaker.

But Dart is not backing down. After Maryland voted to ban foam, Dart shut down its warehouses in the state, displacing 90 workers and sending a signal to other locales. San Diego recently decided to suspend enforcement of its polystyrene ban in the face of a lawsuit by Dart. Even as the market for polystyrene shrinks, many environmental groups want to abolish foam entirely because if it ends up as litter, it can break down easily into small pieces, harming fish and animals that ingest it. For humans, plastic fibers have been found in everything from drinking water to table salt.

The same properties that can make foam an environmental problem also make it profitable to manufacture. The costs are low because foam is 95% air and can be made using relatively little raw plastic.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Relate this issue to the Triple Bottom Line, as discussed in Supplement 5 in your Heizer/Render/Munson text.
  2.  What is Dart’s position in terms of sustainability?
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