Why can't you drink coffee from a Styrofoam cup?

Because there is no such thing. Styrofoam is the registered trademark of Dow Chemical Corp., covering their range of extruded, foamed polystyrene materials. Dow sells the material into two main applications: insulation for buildings, in which genuine Styrofoam is always blue, and the hobby and crafts market, where it might be blue, green or white.

If you drink coffee from a cup made of expanded polystyrene, then, according to Dow, it is not Styrofoam (which is always extruded) but some other brand, and the cup will have been moulded.

Here is what Dow says on the subject (http://www.dow.com/craft/about/cup.htm):

STYROFOAM* is a registered trademark for a line of extruded polystyrene foam products made exclusively by The Dow Chemical Company. STYROFOAM Brand Foam are often Blue* in color and used as insulation, except in the Floral and Craft markets, where STYROFOAM Brand Foam is white or green.

STYROFOAM Brand Foam is not used in the manufacture of disposable foam products, such as food packaging, cups, plates, coolers or egg trays. These disposable products are made of either molded expanded polystyrene beads or thin extruded polystyrene sheet, neither of which is manufactured by Dow in the United States.

In the same way that Hoover became a synonym for vacuum cleaner, Biro became a synonym for ballpoint pen and Neoprene became a synonym for synthetic rubber, Styrofoam is in the process of entering the language as a synonym for expanded or foamed polystyrene. Dow wants to keep its well-known trade name for its own use and is fighting back, albeit without much success. The word Styrofoam has become too popular.

Since most people now think of Styofoam as being another word for expanded, or foamed polystyrene, I guess we ought to say something about that.

Expanded polystyrene

Polystyrene is a hard thermoplastic polymer, most often used in its foamed form, or in a blend or a copolymer with other materials. This writeup concerns the foamed product.

Styrene, the monomer, is a fairly common chemical building block made originally from crude oil and used in many different types of thermoplastic. Chemically speaking, it is phenylethene - a benzene ring with one hydrogen replaced by an ethenyl radical. (Thanks HexFailure). Polystyrene is a long chain of styrene (phenylethene) monomers linked up to form a large molecule. The backbone of the polymer is formed by radical polymerization of the ethene. to form -(CH2-CHR)- (where the R signifies a phenyl-group). (Thanks Professor Pi)

Foamed polystyrene is made in a fairly standard process. It starts out as beads of solid polystyrene, mixed with a blowing agent. These are warmed in steam and as they warm up, the steam softens the thermoplastic and the blowing agent expands dramatically in volume to create the foam. During this phase, the beads increase in size by a factor of between 20 and 60.

The next phase is critical in that the blowing agent is removed from the bubbles and replaced by air. In many factories, the blowing agent is recovered to be re-used in the subsequent manufacturing operations. During this phase the newly expanded beads stabilise and the walls of the foam cells stabilise and strengthen.

Historically the bowing agent was often a chlorofluorocarbon, but since the Kyoto Protocol, most manufacturers have replaced CFCs with HCFCs, which offer around 1/16th of the ozone depletion potential.

Finally, the beads are brought together in a mould or extrusion die, again at an elevated temperature, so that the individual beads fuse together into the desired shape. Extrusion processes are much cheaper, but can be used only to create shapes with a constant cross-section (blocks, cylinders, pipes and suchlike). The moulding process can make any shape you like: a cup, or the packaging for a computer monitor, but is a little more expensive.

The end result is a very light product with excellent thermal insulation properties.

sources / further reading

  • http://www.epsrecycling.org/
  • http://www.dow.com/craft/about/cup.htm
  • http://www.styrofoam.com/


by Charlie Getter and Carson

Big and little, little and big
From the thickest trunk to the skinniest twig
a watermelon and an unripe fig
it’s big it’s little, it’s little it’s big

Every bicycle I’ve ever ridden was different,
some subtly, some vastly,
but all in compliance with the way the world works.
If it does not comply it’s not a bicycle,
but rather a tooth removing machine
teaching me to respect objects casually in compliance with
the way the world works.

I am one of these objects and I’ll hold my breath ‘til I pass out,
I’ll feed a cat in a box, that may not be there, I’ll feed a dog I don’t like, links of sausage I don’t touch,
while I’m on drugs I don’t do, but carry in my backpack, and while I do these things,
I will smile and be at peace…

Peace in the world
hell, that’d be a good thing

A friend of mine and I made a plan
to mountain bike across Asia
which if you didn’t know
is a mighty big continent

and we thought that we two
on two bikes could get through
because it looked
kinda like
there was gonna be peace
in the world


I figure now, crossing Asia
in anyway, outside of a
seat in a really big airplane
is asking for a blindfold
and a dark basement and a really
sharp knife and that’d
not be, a good thing

but oops

I don’t look for that no more

I have cried profound tears on a BART train
as it exited its tunnel
and I bore witness to
vast industrial expanses,
crying for no reason other
than that it was all so pretty to look at,
with a ceiling of beautiful cartoon clouds
and a 360° depth of towers
screaming about being there
while the world turns me
and screams about being here.

I had a job where people would pay me
to change the minds of other people
whom I’d never met

and I thought that my skill and my talent
made a difference, in the world,
was making it, a better place and
hell, that’d be a good thing

I would sit in a television studio
in a basement and change minds
in Minnesota and Mizzur-ah
and West Virginee

casting a web across a continent
that was filled with the fruit of my
ever-swelling head

and I could see the faces of people
in front of their televisions

listening to me
admiring my brilliance
moving in my direction

Yelling back into the kitchen
“Ma… I think we should do
whatever that smart feller
whoever made that TV commercial
wants us to do.”

But they didn’t listen
and Newt Gingrich took over Congress
and I didn’t make a difference and hell,
that coulda been a good thing

but oops… I don’t try to do that no more

I have laid on my back
in a field of grass in Mesa, Arizona
and stared at a gas station,
where a little bit of my heart broke
and I sat up and watched the dawn
with both bare feet on the cool concrete
that was all mine not
even yet warmed
by the sun.

I have laid on my back in a field of grass in Dallas, Texas
and stared at a sixth floor window that reflected
every generation’s glimmer of hope at achieving world peace
at achieving no-more-guns, no-more-bombs
no-more-meanness, no-more-jealous husbands
or whatever else passes for peace these days
like hope in a bootleg barrel in the swing-dancing twenties
a fishbowl full of keys in a the swing party seventies
back when shit wasn’t always breaking
back when a travel iron would last forever
back when a Volvo could drive through a brick wall and the driver’s joint wouldn’t even go out,
back before someone decided to try to save the world through inferior craftsmanship
and that Dallas window made me a little sad
frozen in time
surrounded by sky
that was far from frozen in time
so I stood up and spoke, to let people know I was there
to let people know I was paying attention
to let people know I saw the fire that will not go out
in a grainy picture that brought me to my knees
and the grass was green
the air was warm
and my breathing was deep.

the pin in a hand grenade
planetary motion
handcrafted respect
the teleological suspension of the ethical
acetate on Sharpie ink
global warming
singular functions
myocardial infarctions
guard rails
blue whales
crazy glue

I have laid on my back
on the grassy banks of the Mississippi
and stared at that river’s deep duality,
it’s permanent, ancient,
yet it changes,
moves and soothes me
on a warm October afternoon
where I smiled at the fact
that no one knew
where I was,
I was “gone,”
I was “fuck this I’m outta here,”
missing in action
thousands of miles from where someone
might think I was, I was the redemption
of every teenage wrist slashed
to blast the message
“you’ll miss me when I’m gone,”
cuz I was fucking gone
and I was alive and I like
the smell of grass

Why are we here?
Why do we do this?

driftwood seems more purposeful
jelly fish have more direction

What are we doing?
Why do we care?

caught in the gale force of an
mostly accidental
personal crisis

that is a crisis of faith
looking for meaning
at a time when
seems so wrong

ding dong ding dong
is there anyone at home
in the world?
or do we all sit at tables
in a trendy restaurant
having to shout
to order
to converse
to say things like
“No, I’m never going to marry you?”

What are we up to?
Peace? In the world?
hell, that’d be a good thing

but oops

who knows what to look for anymore?

a toaster makes toast
that’s why they call it that
they could call it “Uncle Failure’s Last Bath”
but more people use it to make toast

salt on snails,
spray paint on walls, ink on a page,
fire on paper, paper covers rock
rocks covers saviors,
troublemaker flocks
clam up near the Spartacus slayers
while part of us wave and particle lasers
our way through the chains
made by the labors of 12 angry neighbors
Charlie inhales cartons of
cigarette flavors Carson savors
a pack of red Now and Laters it’s the little things,
playground swings, it’s the little things
the way Aoka sings, Betray the Species made my ears
ring dissimilar to the silence fear
brings I still order mostly
clear drinks
but fuck it
I watch physics fuck mortality
staring rudely while I eat my Mission street burrito
Putting grandiose schemes on the
back burner for a while.

big things can break you heart
little things can tear it apart
decades are made of days
weak weeks make crappy years
tears eat holes in white shirts
black holes swallow worlds and
colors and light
I would fight if I thought it would work
but oops

I mock a martyr in a bar
Telling her you’re gonna die in Iraq and
it’s not gonna change shit
and to my chagrin I was right
but also really, really wrong
how long how long
lets go for a swim with an appliance
and all the little things and
the big
won’t be important anymore
and who can really say what toast is anyway?

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