Polystyrene or paper?
Our society is becoming more conscious of the need to look after our environment and conserve its natural resources. We try to make choices that are ‘environmentally friendly’ and are sometimes prepared to pay more for products that seem to be better for the environment. One choice that could affect the environment is the choice of material to be used for making disposable cups. In this activity, students put themselves in the role of a manager in a take-away hot drinks company.
They have to choose which of two materials will be best for making the cups for their drinks – polystyrene or paper. Most students will assume at the start that paper cups would be better for the environment because paper is made of a natural, renewable material. However, on examination of the evidence this appears not to be the case.
You could begin this activity by displaying headlines or articles from newspapers that express concern about the use of plastics. Alternatively, you could discuss with students which material they feel is more ‘environmentally friendly’ – paper or polystyrene. Ask them what evidence they have to support their views. Discuss why people who are environmentally conscious might use disposable cups.
Reasons could include: they are more hygienic; they are more convenient and appropriate for use in certain situations.
Give each student a worksheet and a table to complete and each pair or group a thoroughly shuffled pack of information cards. The cards could be laminated to protect them and make them easier to reuse. Alternatively, they could be copied onto cardboard.
Students read the information on the cards and use it to complete the table. This allows them to analyse the environmental impact of each of the two options for making disposable cups. They then complete the questions on the worksheet.
Discuss students’ findings and highlight in particular those facts which surprised them. Discuss why the general perception is that paper would be the more environmentally friendly material to use.
Ask students if there are any aspects of the debate about which they feel they do not have enough information to make an informed decision.
Students make a leaflet to share their findings with the general public. This could be set for homework or done in a subsequent lesson.
Our society is becoming more conscious of the need to look after our environment and conserve its natural resources. We try to make choices that are ‘environmentally friendly’ and are sometimes prepared to pay more for products that seem to be better for the environment. One choice that could affect the environment is the choice of material to be used for making disposable cups.
You are a manager in a company with shops selling take away hot drinks. You have to decide whether you should sell your drinks in paper or polystyrene cups. You have done some research and it shows that your customers are concerned about the environment and will buy their drinks from the company they think takes most care of it. They do not mind that it might make the drinks cost a little more.
- Why do consumers who are concerned about the environment want to have disposable drink cups? What makes them particularly useful?
- Which cups do you think you should use for your hot drinks? Explain your answer
- Which type of cup will have higher transport costs and will require more petrol to be used to get the cups to the shops? (Hint: look at the masses of the cups.)
- What are the main advantage(s) of paper cups?
- What are the main advantage(s) of polystyrene cups?
- What do the following terms mean? a) Anaerobic decomposition b) Biodegrade c) Greenhouse gas.
- Does the information above affect your answers to questions 4 and 5? If so, how?
- From the evidence you have here, which of the cup materials appears to be better for the environment? Explain your answer. Does this surprise you?
- As a drinks company manager, which cups would you choose for your stores? Explain your answer.
- Consumers might want a disposable cup because they do not want to stay in the shop where they have purchased their drink – they may wish to take the drink on a train or to work for instance. They may also prefer disposable cups because they perceive them to be more hygienic.
- Students should answer based on their own views
- The paper cups will have higher transport costs as they are heavier and more petrol/diesel will therefore be needed to get them to the shops.
- The main advantage of paper cups is that they are biodegradable.
- The main advantages of polystyrene cups are that they use fewer raw materials and their manufacturing process consumes less energy and produces less waste than that of paper cups. Polystyrene cups are also lighter than paper ones, which leads to lower transport costs.
- Anaerobic decomposition is decomposition without using oxygen (breaking down). Biodegrade – to be broken down by living organisms. Greenhouse gas – a gas that contributes to global warming.
- This will depend on the answers given earlier. It is likely that the main advantage of using paper (the fact that it is biodegradable) now appears to be less of an advantage than previously thought.
- The polystyrene cup is probably better for the environment when all the factors are taken into consideration. It is not only the disposal of the cup that needs to be considered, but the materials used to make and transport it too.
- The answer to this is up to the student. They may choose polystyrene as it probably is more ‘environmentally friendly’ or paper because of the persistent belief among consumers that it is better for the environment.
You could mark the leaflet for:
- Scientific accuracy
- Persuasiveness of the arguments
- PDF, Size 0.92 mb
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