why you should never use styrofoam again
Just say NO to styrofoam
Styrene or polystyrene is the industry name for the plastic foam that
most of us call “Styrofoam”**, and there are so many reasons why you
should never use it again. Polystyrene products are made with petroleum,
and a number of other non-sustainable, toxic and heavily-polluting
ingredients. It’s essentially not recyclable, and once it goes to the
landfill it virtually never breaks down. Ever. On top of that, it is
probably leaching toxins into your food or drink. It’s so bad that it’s
been banned in many places, all over the world. Want to learn more about
why to just say no to styrofoam?
In June 2011 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added
Styrene, the chemical found and released from polystyrene (styrofoam)
products such as “to-go” containers, cups and plates, to its list of
materials that are anticipated to be carcinogens (putting people at
increased risk for cancer). There is a reasonable chance that these
toxic chemicals may leach from polystyrene products into the food or
beverage that they contain.
Don’t be fooled by green-washing
The chemical lobbies and the polystyrene product manufacturers are
consistently attempting to “green-wash” their products by misleading
consumers about environmental practices or the environmental risks and
benefits. For example, a growing number of polystyrene products now
proudly display the message: “An average weight paper cup generates 148%
more solid waste by weight than a comparable foam cup”. Really? It’s
true that polystyrene is lightweight and is 95% air so it does indeed
weigh less than paper, but that isn’t the real story. What they fail to
tell you is that 25-30% of the total amount of space in our landfills is
taken up by polystyrene and other petroleum-based plastics.
It will be around for a looonnnggg time
The manufacturers bring up solid waste but choose not to tell you
that foam containers aren’t biodegradable. Polystyrene is biologically
inert - so microorganisms have a a really hard time eating it. And
decomposition is a whole other issue. Yes, in theory polystyrene can
break down over vast amounts of time (estimates range from 100 to 1
million years depending on the source). But what actually happens is
that it merely breaks down into much smaller pieces, and those smaller
pieces still contain the chemicals and toxins that comprise the original
product. Have you ever seen the tiny styrofoam pieces that like to
stick to everything when you unpack that new TV or computer? That’s
basically what you get from polystyrene decomposition.
They will also tell you that decomposition can be “aided by heat”.
It’s ironic that they don’t just come out and say it can be burned,
because that’s exactly what happens to a lot of polystyrene around the
world. And yes, we’ve all done it -- thrown the styrofoam cup or plate
on the fire so that we could watch it melt. But burning polystyrene
releases large amounts of Carbon Monoxide, along with Styrene and a slew
of other toxic chemical compounds into the environment which are known
to be hazardous to our health.
It’s not really recyclable either
And for all those folks that think polystyrene is recyclable because
it has a #6 recycling symbol on the bottom; guess again. While the
technology does exist in some countries to recycle polystyrene, the
market for recycling it is incredibly small and shrinking. Polystyrene
can be remade into items such as packing peanuts and some cafeteria
trays, but not into cups, “to-go” or food containers. Containers that
have previously been used for food storage create a massive food hygiene
issue for recyclers. Because of this, and due to the shrinking market
for the recycled products, many recyclers do not accept polystyrene. So
don’t bother putting it in your blue recycling bin cause it’s just going
to get thrown away anyway.
It will leach toxins into your food
Okay so maybe you’re not burning styrofoam, but just putting hot food
or liquids into it. When they come into contact with warm food or
drink, polystyrene food containers leach the toxins Styrene and Benzene
(both suspected carcinogens, and known neurotoxins) -- some of which can
ultimately be absorbed into our bloodstream and tissues. And it only
gets worse if you pop that “to-go” container in the microwave or want to
“warm up” that coffee.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website advises us to: “Remove
food from plastic wrap, freezer cartons, and/or Styrofoam trays before
defrosting and cooking. They are not heat stable and could leak
hazardous compounds from the container or plastic wrap into the food.”
Because polystyrene products are so common, many people assume they
are safe, and that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would not
allow an unhealthy product to be sold to the public. But in 1986 the
National Human Adipose Tissue Survey identified Styrene residues in 100%
of all samples of human fat tissue taken in the US. Yet it’s still
It’s a hazardous waste
And let’s review the environmental impact too. A 1986 EPA report on
solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the 5th
largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. When
considering cradle-to-grave impacts (because that’s what we do that at
The Going Green Store) -- to include the product manufacturing process,
the use and disposal of the product, energy consumption, greenhouse gas
effects, and the total environmental effect -- polystyrene’s negative
environmental impacts were 2nd highest, sitting right behind aluminum,
according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
It’s banned in other places
Did you know that over 100 North American, as well as numerous
European and Asian cities, have banned polystyrene food packaging
altogether as a result of the negative impacts to humans and the
environment? Even McDonald’s saw the pitfalls of polystyrene and
switched to paper containers years ago.
So what can we, you and I, do today?
- Be aware of the harmful effects of this product (from a health and environmental viewpoint) and tell others.
- Choose paper over styrofoam every time, or better yet, use a
reusable container or mug. A growing number of local restaurants and coffee shops are
switching to health-conscious, planet-friendly options -- thank them and
tell them that it matters!
- When shopping for groceries select items that are wrapped in
polystyrene-free packaging or better yet, forgo packaging altogether if
- Ask your local takeaway restaurants to use a more health-conscious
alternative to styrofoam. Many alternatives are now readily available
and are made from materials such as post-consumer recycled paper,
bagasse (sugarcane) and plant-based plastics.
** Styrofoam is actually the trade name for polystyrene made by the Dow Chemical Company.