Why we should stop using Styrofoam (polystyrene) and what we can use instead.
Styrofoam is actually polystyrene, which is a petroleum-based plastic but most people call it under the trade name Styrofoam, which is mostly used for house insulations.
Why is it used?
Because it is a super light-weight material, has good insulation properties, and is extremely cheap, it is often used in such products as cups, plates, and packaging materials.
Why we shouldn’t be using it:
Health reasons: Styrene is the main component of polystyrene and is used extensively in manufacturing of plastic. Acute health effects were reported by people working with styrene. Scientific studies prove that chronic exposure affects the central nervous system showing symptoms such as depression and headache. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain (especially when heated in a microwave).
Unnecessary waste: the EPA reports styrene as the 4th largest creator of hazardous waste. The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research identified 57 chemical byproducts released during the combustion of polystyrene foam. The process of making polystyrene pollutes the air and creates large amounts of liquid and solid waste. Plastic waste now comprises most of the landfills.
Serious air pollution: The use of hydrocarbons in polystyrene foam during manufacturing releases the hydrocarbons into the air at ground level; there, combined with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight, they form tropospheric ozone -- a serious air pollutant at ground level.
Hazard to animals: Polystyrene foam is often dumped into the environment as litter. This material is notorious for breaking up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems.
Can we substitute Styrene?
Absolutely. Post-consumer recycled paper, bamboo, corn plastics, etc. are renewable resources and can be used in place of polystyrene foam. These products biodegrade when composted and many businesses and municipalities already successfully substitute styrene. For example, a company called Ecovative Design has created a line of products made from fungi that are Styrofoam-like, look amazing, durable, and environmentally friendly. In addition, there are many different bio-composite materials available as insulation that can replace Styrofoam in construction.
Tips on eliminating health and planet-damaging plastic in our households.
What can you do now to reduce polystyrene usage?
The easiest thing to do: stop dining or taking-out food in the restaurants using styrene. It is estimated that substituting styrene with renewable sources will cost business owners 1-5c more per container – if they are not willing to do so for the health of their customers and the planet, they do not deserve your business. Plus, businesses can pass this nominal cost to consumers.
Reduce polystyrene usage by foregoing single-use items. Use or ask for paper cups instead of Styrofoam.
Advocate: petition your town to stop using Styrofoam. Over 100 cities and many states have ordinances restricting polystyrene food services ware and packaging materials. Some countries and international cities have stopped using it altogether: Canada, some European and Caribbean countries (Guyana). Cities that banned Styrofoam. Contact us for a sample letter to your municipalities, businesses, and employers on health hazards of styrene and describing how it can be easily substituted.
Follow our Facebook page where we announce coastal clean-up days. You will be surprised how much styrene ends up in the water and potentially in the stomachs of marine life.
Educate your children, families and friends on health hazards of styrene and easy ways to substitute it.
Recycle styrene used in packaging (e.g. a large fridge container). While styrene is not regularly recycled, you may find eco-centers accepting styrene for recycling. For information on recycling centers, click here.