Drama In The World Of Polystyrene Foam
Dart Container Corporation is a perfect example of a company whose products are everywhere, yet you don't pay much attention to. Dart is the world's largest manufacturer of foam cups and containers, producing about as many as all of its competitors combined.
The company produces more than 4,000 products such as cups, lids, cutlery, straws and portion containers. Dart even acquired Solo Cup Company, whose infamous red cups are frequently used at tailgates and parties, in 2012 for approximately $1 billion.
Dart, which shipped its first foam cup in 1960, is seeing one of its most popular products catch heat. Environmentalists and politicians are going after expandable polystyrene products—colloquially called Styrofoam, which is the material used in some of Dart's most notable products. The company says 20% of its $3 billion in annual sales comes from foam products.
Cities and states across the country are rushing to ban the use of expandable polystyrene products. Maine became the first state to ban their use last year, with Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland, Hawaii and Oregon at various stages of instituting bans.
When Maryland voted to ban the use of foam, Dart immediately struck back. The company shut down two warehouses in the state, costing 90 employees their jobs.
In San Diego, Dart responded to a similar ban by filing a lawsuit alongside a restaurant trade group. The lawsuit contended that San Diego should've undertaken a detailed environmental analysis before implementing the ban. San Diego has since suspended its enforcement of the law while it performs the analysis.
Dart believes it is being unfairly targeted as other products, such as paper, negatively impact the environment as well. "We don’t believe there are good, objective reasons to single out certain materials," Dart’s CEO Jim Lammers said.
While Dart says it has adapted to declining foam sales by offering more paper products and containers made from recycled material, Dart wonders what happens next. "If you just give up on foam," said Michael Westerfield, director of recycling at Dart, "what are they going to want to do next?"
Dart contends foam can be recycled, but most cities don't accept it as they do plastic because they can't find buyers who are willing to pay for it. Dart believes that one day recycled foam can be used to make new products, but health regulators have not yet given approval to do so.
Dart has a team of chemists and engineers who are working on new products such as new coatings for paper cups that don't use plastic. They're also studying how its products compose in soil samples. "I guarantee you we are going to be different 10 years from now," Lammers said.
While Dart is just one example of a company fighting environmentalists and politicians who are trying to protect the environment, it provides an interesting insight into how they refuse to go down without a fight. If Dart ultimately loses the ability to sell foam products, it remains to be seen if they create products that can fill the void or see sales take a hit. While the debate over recyclables and climate change is not going to end any time soon, it will be interesting to see what commonly used materials end up in the crosshairs of environmentalists and politicians after expandable polystyrene.
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