Kristin Wevill

English 134

Professor Marx

Styrofoam and Sustainability


“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold


As I am sitting at my desk looking out my dorm room window, I feel as though I could not be in a more perfect place. For the last six months I have lived on the California Polytechnic State University campus in Fremont, one of the red brick dorms. I happen to live on the third floor where my window faces bishops peak, and it is a wonderful view. From my window I can see three proud palm trees shooting upward while the smaller trees curve and wind themselves around each other below. I can see other red brick dorms below me including Tenaya and Muir. Every once in a while a student will pass along the sidewalk below. The sun is shining brightly, and when I look into the horizon I see the “M” on Madonna hill to the left and Bishops Peak to the right. My home, Cal Pol, which educates approximately 20,000 students, prides itself on building for sustainability including environmentally conscious planning. According to Cal Poly’s Building for Sustainability website, the goals of sustainable development are to balance environmental protection, programmatic needs, and financial viability. Some of the environmental benefits listed include: Enhancing and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, improving air and water quality, reducing solid waste, and conserving natural resources. The programmatic benefits include: Improving air, thermal and acoustic environments, enhancing occupant comfort and health, minimizing the strain on local infrastructure, contributing to overall quality of life, and meeting the functional needs of a college campus.

Cal Poly consists of nearly 10,000 acres. Frequently I take hikes on the seemingly endless choice of trials in the Poly Canyon. During these hikes I see many different species of plants and wildlife. Some of this vegetation includes our state flower and our state grass. Animals I see range from small rodents to herds of horses. The harmony which exists in nature just outside of the main Cal Poly Campus is the perfect get away from stressful school life, available for any one who seeks it.

But under Cal Poly’s environmentally aware websites and seemingly concerned recycle bins lies a deeper issue, one that is not only detrimental to our health, but also the environment. The harmony in which I spoke of becomes obstructed as increasing litter fills Bizzolara’s creek bed. I feel infuriated when I see little bits and pieces of Styrofoam scattered across the narrow dirt trails I wander. Styrofoam is used in nearly all dining facilities on campus. Campus Dining (which includes Lighthouse, Campus Market, Julian’s, Lucy’s, Vista Grande Café, etc.) reportedly uses 360,000 Styrofoam cups each year (not including Summer Quarter). And this statistic does not even include the other Styrofoam products offered on campus, which mostly is your only choice. For example, when I decided I was going to be writing a paper about Cal Poly and Styrofoam, I decided to conduct an experiment. For one week I would refuse to use any type of Styrofoam on campus. When I bought smoothies at Lucy’s Juice I would request the blue Pepsi cups found in the Sand Which Factory instead of the regular Styrofoam ones. Each time I was warned by the Lucy’s Juice employee that the smoothie would liquidate faster and make condensation through the sides. When I ate at the Avenue I would ask the employees to just wrap my food in saran wrap rather than placing it on a Styrofoam plate. At Vista Grande Café I would only eat the pre-packaged salads or the corn dogs that were served in little paper containers rather than Styrofoam. One day my room mate came to eat dinner with me at Vista Grande Café and wanted a waffle, but her only option was to use a Styrofoam plate. I quickly spotted the manager and asked if there were any alternatives to the Styrofoam plates seated next to the waffle makers. In response, the manager (who wishes to remain anonymous) replied, “Honey, I’m sorry, I wish there was, but there isn’t,” furthermore she went on to explain that, “the Styrofoam plates only cost about a penny each, while the paper plates cost about five or six pennies more, and here its all about cost, cost, cost.”

And so there I had it…the reason Cal Poly was ignoring almost every sustainability goal, the reason Cal Poly was undermining my health, the reason was merely a couple of pennies.

So Cal Poly thinks it is being sustainable while promoting the use of Styrofoam? Let us take a look. How can Cal Poly say that they are enhancing and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, and improving air and water quality when the production of Styrofoam results in seven million pounds of toxic chemicals released in the environment each year. Not only do these chemicals eat up our one and only ozone layer, but the production of these polystyrene products produce earth level smog pollution which immediately damages the quality of our air. (Johnson 37) How can Cal Poly say they are reducing solid waste when Styrofoam is a solid waste that is filling up our land fills and takes many lifetimes to disintegrate? How can Cal Poly say they are conserving natural resources when Petroleum, which is an un replenish able limited resource, is used to manufacture Styrofoam.

Cal Poly also fails to answer to its own goal of enhancing occupant comfort and health regarding the programmatic benefits of being a sustainable campus. Styrofoam is a proven health hazard. When Styrofoam is used to hold food or drinks (such as to-go boxes) numerous toxic chemicals leach out into the food or drink which is then consumed, ingesting the toxins along with the food. Styrofoam production involves the use of two carcinogens (cancer causing agents) benzene and styrene. (Johnson 35) Another type of toxin found in Styrofoam has been found to lower sperm production in males and reduce the number of full time pregnancies in females. (Johnson 36) Currently the Pro-Polystyrene website ( is claiming that Styrofoam is economical because the production is cheaper. This is a weak argument because the website later admits that,Presently, polystyrene food service packaging is generally not recycled because it is not economically sustainable.” Further more, the website states that, “Littering is a matter of behavior; people who discard materials into the environment usually do so because they don't think or don't care. Attributing the litter issue to one particular packaging material does not solve the problem because another type of packaging will take its place as litter unless behavior changes.” This is true, but until behavior changes, the littered Styrofoam causes much more harm to the environment than any paper product.

Clare Johnson was my inspiration for this piece as I evaluated her article, “Cal Polystyrene” (pg 33-39) in Moebius Volume II, Number 2. In her piece, Johnson makes the appeal of logos through stating various statistics and explaining the processes in which Styrofoam is made. Johnson made the appeal of pathos by describing how our own bodies suffer from the use and production of Styrofoam and also the detrimental effects it has on the environment. Finally Johnson made an appeal of ethos by constantly referring to other works making herself sound very informed.

In the mean while, however, I think it would be a great idea if the different dining restaurants on campus such as Vista Grande Cafe offered alternatives to the Styrofoam plates and have both Styrofoam and Paper plates next to the waffle machines so that the aware students can choose whether or not they want to pay the few extra cents to be health and environmentally conscious. Cal Poly could even start a recycling program for the Styrofoam. I am convinced that all it would take to start a revolution is a few determined students.

Finally, as I am still sitting as my desk, finishing this paper, the sun is beginning to set. I can only hope that Cal Poly does try it’s best to become an even more sustainable campus by offering alternatives to the Styrofoam products. I hope that in ten or twenty years from now my children can play in the Brizzolara Creek and hike across the Cuesta Ridge with out Styrofoam interfering with their health. I hope that these places remain as beautiful and as breath taking as they are today[SM1] .








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 [SM1]Congratulations Kristin, you’ve done extensive revisions to correct errors of expression, to clarify organization and to develop a powerful persuasive message. This is a piece that I will be proud to put on the website and that may well bring about some consequences. A