Matt Lehtonen

Engl 134

Cal Polystyrene: A Well-Written Persuasive Essay

            Before coming to Cal Poly, the term ŅsustainabilityÓ had no significance to me. Now that I am a student here, however, I hear the term almost every day. Cal PolyÕs president Warren J. Baker explains the campusÕ connection with sustainability perfectly: ŅAs a polytechnic university, it is at the core of our mission to examine the ways in which knowledge may be applied to improve society, manage scarce resources, and preserve the precious environmental values that support us physically as a species and uplift us spiritually.Ó You would think that a school with a mission like this would be the last to use a product that generates the 5th largest amount of toxic waste of any single chemical production process. Think again. Clare JohnsonÕs essay Cal Polystyrene calls out Cal Poly on its use of environmentally harmful Styrofoam containers and uses logic, emotional appeals, and credibility to successfully persuade her readers against using these products.

            The central claim in JohnsonÕs essay is ŅPolystyrene foam will not only outlive all of us in landfills across America, but it is also harmful to human health and destructive to the environment. Cal Poly therefore, should discontinue its use of Styrofoam products on campus and consider alternative food packaging in effort to maintain its goals of being a sustainable campus Š and for the sake of every studentÕs health.Ó Throughout her essay, Johnson never strays from this claim and she uses a plethora of convincing evidence to get her point across.

            Johnson lets the facts do the talking for her in the majority of this essay. In the beginning she uses figures to show how much Styrofoam Cal Poly actually uses and where it ends up. According to her essay, ŅCal Poly contributes 360,000 Styrofoam cups to nearby landfills each year,Ó and thatÕs not even counting the other Styrofoam products used. Johnson tells us that the reason Cal Poly uses so much polystyrene packaging is because a Styrofoam cup is six times cheaper than a paper cup. She then uses a quote from the International Plastics Task ForceÕs website explaining that polystyrene packaging isnÕt recycled because itÕs too expensive. So now we know that Cal Poly uses massive amounts of Styrofoam because itÕs inexpensive and that they donÕt recycle it because itÕs too costly. So Cal Poly is currently hurting the environment just to save money on some beverage containers. Clare does a good job of using logic to call out Cal Poly for acting against its plan of sustainability and contributing to environmental waste. It is persuasive because you canÕt deny the facts.

            The next section of JohnsonÕs paper continues to use logic and discusses the harms associated with the use and production of Styrofoam food packaging. She first talks about the health hazards of the carcinogens (cancer causing agents) benzene and styrene, which are needed to make Styrofoam. Johnson uses facts from various studies showing that increased levels of styrene concentration may cause fatigue, irritation, feelings of inebriation, and a decrease in concentration ability. She then tells us that Styrofoam drinking cups leach Styrofoam into the liquids they contain. She also uses reliable sources to show that styrene tends to build up in the human body causing these effects and also harming the human reproductive system. All of the information used in this section is believable and concrete because it is taken from scientific experiments.            Next Johnson discusses the environmentally destructive process used to create polystyrene and the waste it causes. She talks about how polystyrene manufacturing uses valuable petroleum and also causes hazardous effects to air quality and the ozone layer. She adds to the importance of those facts by explaining the damages caused by the deterioration of the ozone layer, such as increases in skin and eye diseases. These facts are effective because they directly relate to all humansÕ well-being. She then says that the highly explosive nature of the blowing agent Pentane makes the polystyrene creation process life-threatening to workers. Now we know that Styrofoam not only causes long-term damages, but can cause instantaneous maladies as well.

            JohnsonÕs paper has many convincing facts, but it wouldnÕt be as compelling without its ability to invoke emotion. It starts off by relating the topic to the audience using a direct scenario: ŅEach day when you get your cup of java, your cheeseburger and fries, or your nachos-to-go, your food will probably be served in a Styrofoam polystyrene container.Ó After hearing this, the readers are likely to feel responsible for the problems outlined in the rest of the paper.

            One convincing method of persuasion used by Johnson is provoking emotion with the use of real-life examples. She talks about the students at Cal State Long Beach that tried to educate the student population about the dangers of harmful Styrofoam products. This shows that there are other people out there who care about the ideas in this paper and proves that the problem is real. The next example in JohnsonÕs paper is used to show that there is hope for the situation and that a solution is within reach. She looks back at the anti-Styrofoam campaign against the fast food chain McDonaldÕs in the early 1990Õs and shows how they finally backed down and stopped using polystyrene products. Now the reader has been informed of how serious the issue is and they realize how powerfully the decisions of large multi-national corporations can affect our environment.

            Although Johnson does a good job of convincing her reader with the use of emotional appeals, there is one thing that is lacking. Almost all of JohnsonÕs paper complains about the harms caused by the manufacturing and use of polystyrene products, but she doesnÕt offer enough of a solution relative to Cal Poly. She talks briefly about using biodegradable unbleached paper, but also states that itÕs more expensive. Complete replacement of Styrofoam products would be ideal, but it isnÕt likely. JohnsonÕs essay would be more effective if it brought forth a more tangible call to action that could potentially cause real results. If you can give the students of Cal Poly something to do that they think is worth their time then you can actually provoke action and approach solution rather than just change beliefs.

Cal Polystyrene brings forth many compelling logical and emotional appeals, but the credibility is often lacking. Although she uses technical jargon and reliable sources to show that she has done her research, she fails to back-up a few of her arguments. The most obvious example of this is when she talks about how discarded Styrofoam pieces can be mistaken for food by animals, causing them to die of clogged digestive pathways. She gives no scientific evidence to prove that this actually happens so as far as the reader is concerned, it could just be her opinion. The biggest problem I had with JohnsonÕs credibility is that she never tells you who she is and why you should believe her. If she provided information on her background then she would have a much more convincing voice on the subject.

            After reading Cal Polystyrene I have become much more informed on the subject and have been persuaded to adopt the beliefs of the author. She put forth good arguments of scientific fact and also used emotional appeals to get me to agree with her views. I believe that she has accomplished all of her goals and produced a persuasive essay.