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Tri, Tri Again

Tritan Tumbler.

Check plus! Photo by Christy Schneider.

As summer heats, I enjoy the cold pep of iced coffee – the perfect drink for a Saturday at the park. But inside the chill of air-conditioned CHF [an environment that might interest Lord Kelvin—Ed.], hot coffee is a must. Where is the reusable cup that serves both hot and cold coffee needs, and is made of a material safe for my health?  

My aunt offered a gift: “Have you heard of the Tervis Tumbler? So-and-so had one and she loves it; it’s for hot and cold and dishwasher safe.” Her enthusiasm for the snappy tumbler in the retro Fiesta pattern resembled that of a Tupperware party host who describes the bliss of a container’s air-tight freshness. My aunt, however, offered this gift and advice for free and with no commission.

Word-of-mouth product endorsements are often the way new technologies leave the lab, spread through the culture and eventually arrive in my caffeine-hungry hands on Monday morning. But I am a skeptic. Can I trust this magic cup? The Tervis FAQ page assures me the product contains no Bisphenol A – it’s made using the polymer Tritan, from Eastman Chemical Company.

Tritan has high heat resistance compared with most other polymers. As Eastman explains on their website, “higher heat resistance allows molded products to withstand the harsh dishwasher environment without crazing, cracking or hazing from continual exposure to high heat, humidity, and aggressive cleaning detergents and sanitizers.” So Tritan doesn’t need BPA to give it strength or heat resistance.

It’s a cup that almost wasn’t. Tritan was first developed more than a half century ago, but was difficult and expensive to manufacture – especially when additives like BPA could provide the same heat resistance. The project was relegated to an Eastman archive, where it was later discovered by Emmett Crawford. Crawford decided that new technology and demand for additive-free plastics could make a material too expensive in the 1950s a commercial success today. And as my piping hot /ice cold coffee reminds me, he was right. Others noticed, too: at CHF’s Innovation Day 2010, Crawford received the Gordon E. Moore Medal for bringing Tritan to market.

Christy Schneider is Coordinator of Exhibitions at CHF. Additional reporting by Neil Gussman.

Related:
Medal Winner’s Emotional Moments [Periodic Tabloid]
Debating BPA’s Toxicity [C&EN]

Posted In: History

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