Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 1, 2011

FOR THE LOVE OF POLYSTYRENE.... The list of issues causing bitter divisions among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill has a new entry: biodegradable cups.

When the House returns Monday from a week-long recess, members and staffers will see something that hasn't been in the Capitol for four years: Styrofoam.

In the first move toward phasing out part of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) "Green the Capitol" program, polystyrene cups were reintroduced this week as an option for coffee drinkers in the Capitol Carry-Out, the building's mini-cafeteria.

The basement eatery had been part of Pelosi's "Greening" program since 2007, when Democrats took control of the House. The program brought climate-friendly vending machines and compact fluorescent lightbulbs to the Capitol; caused the Capitol Power Plant to switch from burning coal to natural gas; and reduced energy and water consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively, according to an April 2010 report.

Wonkette offers a reminder about the nature of the problem: "'Foamed polystyrene' is a miraculous invention that manages to be completely awful through every step of its near-eternal 'life cycle' -- it is manufactured with petroleum that must be imported from Middle East dictatorships, toxic 'styrene oligomers' migrate into the food it holds, it's highly flammable and produces black poisonous smoke, and most of the 25 billion polystyrene cups tossed every year will take more than half a millennium to degrade. And that's why the Republican-led House of Representatives made it an immediate priority to cancel the House cafeteria's four years of biodegradable food and beverage packaging."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), not surprisingly, isn't happy, noting that the new Republican policy will send 535 more tons of waste to landfills.

Part of me wonders if the GOP policy brought back the environmentally-irresponsible cups just to annoy Pelosi, or if Republicans are choosing to thumb their noses at "green" policies, just because it makes them feel better about themselves.

I suppose it's possible that it's both.

Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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It's kindergarten with more money.

Posted by: patrick II on March 1, 2011 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Just read one of the comments on Wonkette that was priceless (thanks whoever JustPixels may be):

"Polystyrene cups are the perfect metaphor for the Repubicans: White, lightweight and bad for the environment."

Posted by: whichwitch on March 1, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Polystyrene is a more effective insulator for hot beverages than the biogradable alternatives. So there is a reason to want it. The problem is that they are not paying the true cost of this privilege.

Posted by: Walker on March 1, 2011 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Americablog had one more theory - a styrofoam manufacturer donating to the GOP getting its reward in a way that also pisses off Dems. Win-win if you're a heartless Republican (and nowadays, are there any other kinds?)

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 1, 2011 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

A triumph unequaled since St. Reagan liberated the White House roof from the tyranny of Carter's photovoltaic panels. Hooray for the kindergarten that is today's Republican Party!

Posted by: Trollhattan on March 1, 2011 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

There's no limit to the level of idiocy that the GOP can go to before the 'Foxomatons' will punish or not vote for them. Republicans can't do any wrong which is why they act with such impunity, to the detriment of America. Stupid people voting for stupid leaders and the enabling of that by Fox.

When will this segment of the American population de-indoctrinate?

Posted by: QuestionEverything on March 1, 2011 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it's just Pelosi. The essential definition of modern conservatism is "if it pisses off liberals, we're for it."

Posted by: Redshift on March 1, 2011 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Real mean want styrofoam cups in their SUV's cup holders. USA! USA!

Posted by: demisod on March 1, 2011 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Although it's been said many times (by me), all Republican legislators are dicks.

Posted by: David Bailey on March 1, 2011 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not even sure the last time I had coffee in Styrofoam. Paper cups work just fine, and you can toss them in the compost when you're done.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on March 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Foamed polystyrene' is a miraculous invention that manages to be completely awful through every step of its near-eternal 'life cycle' "

Leave to Wonkette to find the metaphor for the modern GOP in the life cycle of the styrofoam cup.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on March 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Disposable cups are so tacky. A REAL conservative would demand porcelain china cups, preferably delivered by liveried negro servants. Todays conservatives are dicks and wimps.

Posted by: martin on March 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's pride in ignorance. That's what it boils down to.

Posted by: mikefromArlington on March 1, 2011 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

When will this segment of the American population de-indoctrinate?

Well , Death used to be a pretty good de indoctrinator , but your right , if there is no limit it becomes complicated .

Posted by: FRP on March 1, 2011 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of times a week I walk through the office buidlings on the House side of the Hill. In the various basement levels is an underground city -- shops, travel agents, restaurants, barbers, post office, etc -- that is among the most green environments in all of DC. I had no idea Pelosi was responsible.

I agree -- the Reps are doing this just to spite the Dems.

Posted by: cash on March 1, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the ONLY thing Republicans are FOR:
Anything and everything that pisses of Liberals and Democrats.

That's their sole reason to live and to get elected.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 1, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure that polystyrene foam is recyclable. Perhaps the problem is the lack of a recycling mechanism in the Capitol? It seems that high oil prices would help the market for the recycled material.

It would be interesting to look at the difference in the carbon footprint for a polystyrene cup vs. a biodegradable paper cup. I would not automatically assume that the paper cup is more "green". I don't have a position here, just that things don't always pencil out as expected.

Posted by: AK Liberal on March 1, 2011 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Better living through chemicals! Death to the GOP.. I've had enough of the teabauchery to last half a millenium. These people are idiots, it's time for them to leave.

Posted by: Trollop on March 1, 2011 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, come on, they're just creating valuable jobs in the fields of oncology and waste-haulage!

Posted by: Matt on March 1, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Polystyrene is one of the very few things I can't dispose of at my recycling center.

All that they can recommend is that UPS stores will generally take polystyrene peanuts, but anything else is just trash.

So it may be recyclable, but it is clearly less economical than plastics, batteries, electronics, textiles, oil (cooking and motor), and light bulbs (florescent, and incandescent)

Posted by: mike on March 1, 2011 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

You can liquefy these cups in Acetone easily enough but then I'm pretty certain you've got a bigger problem..

Posted by: Trollop on March 1, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Walker wrote: "Polystyrene is a more effective insulator for hot beverages than the biogradable alternatives."

The world's largest coffee retailer disagrees.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 1, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

AK liberal. I worked for years in the recycling industry on the west coast. I have never seen, once in all my time, ,a recyclable styrofoam product. While no longer in the business, I am a recycler by nature, and I still have yet to see any city that recycles styrofoam. As a matter of fact, just go to Craigslist and see how many people are trying to pawn off their styrofoam from computer shipments etc. The only people who use them are for art projects, it seems. So, don't just throw out this careless remark, because , unless someone can prove otherwise, it is baseless.
Secondly, there was a study done to look at the environmental impact of the switch from styrofoam to biodegradeable, in terms of the footprint, from start to finish. These studies have been done for years, in most cities and towns, and it's not even close. Hey, everything we use will have an impact on the environment. No one is saying the greener cups are some perfect form of material that causes no impact and will magically disappear, or turn into clean drinking water. Probably the best thing is to get a re-usable container, perhaps metal, or plastic, that will last for years and years.

Posted by: furiiousd on March 1, 2011 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Those who have said "because it pisses off liberals, what other reason do they need?" have it correct.

Although the other answer is "to prove they can." It makes them feel powerful to engage in petty acts by fiat.

but what I find most interesting is that this is not a limited thing: in Iowa, the Republicans also reclaimed control of the state House. One of their first acts, by leadership decree was. . . yep: lift the ban on polystyrene cups on the floor of the House.

I will give them credit -- Republicans do a lot of things very poorly, but they can coordinate on a "message" better than anyone.

Posted by: zeitgeist on March 1, 2011 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose it's possible that it's both.

Possible? No, a certainty.

Posted by: LL on March 1, 2011 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Although it's been said many times (by me), all Republican legislators are dicks.


Posted by: LL on March 1, 2011 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

The US Government: a wholly owned subsidiary of the petroleum industry.

Posted by: idlemind on March 1, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

[the Democrats] "caused the Capitol Power Plant to switch from burning coal to natural gas"

How long until (with a nod to martin) Republicans have it switched back to coal, so they can have gangs of sweating, dust-covered negroes shoveling it into the boilers again?

Nineteenth Century, ho! Backwards, my hearties!

Posted by: zandru on March 1, 2011 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why are there no thoughtful, humane, decent Republicans in leadership positions? The GOP is literally now nothing more than a collection of f*cking idiots, whackjobs and criminals.

Posted by: June on March 1, 2011 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are criminally insane.

Posted by: carbon4logic on March 1, 2011 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

I want a bumper sticker that says:
I hate you anyway

I have a feeling my bumper will be gone if not my whole vehicle

Posted by: Schtick on March 1, 2011 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Concur with several commenters above, who say they can't recycle styrofoam (except for reusing the packing peanuts); I can't either; it's almost the only thing that my recycling center won't accept. Drives me nuts because, although I can easily avoid using styrofoam cups, there's little/ nothing I can do about all the meat "trays" and egg "cartons"...

Posted by: exlibra on March 1, 2011 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

In other news, House Republicans have just finished unscrewing all the compact fluorescent lightbulbs in the Capitol, replacing them with incandescent ones.

Posted by: Good Reason on March 1, 2011 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

A friend of mine was trying to raise money for a film project with a topic that would seem, on the surface (though not in reality) to be anathema to some on the left. A right wing group gave him $20K. He gladly accepted it, then asked them if they wouldn't mind explaining to them why they decided to give him the money. "Is it because it'll piss off liberals?" he asked.

"Yup!" was their reply.

Like others have said above, it's kindergarten again.

Posted by: President Lindsay on March 2, 2011 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

I hope they all puncture the styrene cups with their fingernails (a common occurrence in my experience) and the hot coffee drips all over their limp wazoos.

Posted by: Virginia on March 2, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Very interesting exchange. Seems that several of you no longer have the ability to express yourselves without reverting to name-calling, and most people will just ignore you as being uneducated - reminds me of arguing with someone in elementatry school. Oh well, I guess the discussion about our school systems is better left for another day.

The first post in this string forgot to include more of the original article, "...the $475,000 composting program in the House-side cafeterias that stirred the most controversy. Designed to cut down on waste, the program instituted the use of biodegradable utensils and trays made of cornstarch -- an idea that may have worked better in theory than in practice, as it led to take-away boxes that leaked, spoons that melted and forks that broke when stuck into so much as a chicken tender."
It did not work folks!
And for those of you that think that paper cups are automatically recycled, think again. They are not made of 100% paper - if they were they would not hold a liquid. Instead, they have to have a plastic coating on the inside, which cannot be removed in a recycling process.
For those of you that do not think that polystyrene can be , or is being recycled, do a little research. It IS being recycled in many, many cities across the country, including even California of all places.

Posted by: Scot on March 4, 2011 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK



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