The ugly truth about styrofoam
Note: “Styrofoam” is actually the name of a trademarked brand. The correct term when referring to the plastic foam is “polystyrene foam” or “plastic foam.”
–We, as consumers, love polystyrene foam for its low cost and ability to insulate our drinks. Most companies prefer plastic foam for product packaging because it is the cheapest option. But a pro-con comparison of plastic foam shows that the cons far outweigh the pros, especially when taking both environmental and human health into consideration.
Plastic foam is made from non-renewable crude oil, or fossil fuels. Using this for large-scale material production contributes to resource depletion and greenhouse gas production. To put it into perspective, producing 10,000 plastic foam cups emits about 680 pounds of greenhouse gases.
The technology to recycle plastic foam exists, but the recycling equipment is extremely expensive and very few facilities actually have foam balers. Templeton’s Mid-State Solid Waste and Recycling is not able to recycle plastic foam products. Polystyrene foam that is “recycled” is separated out and placed into regular landfill trash. Every year, approximately 25 billion polystyrene foam coffee cups end up in landfills. And that’s only coffee cups – we can only imagine the additional soda cups, food containers and packing peanuts that also go un-recycled. Plastic foam, like all plastic products, never truly biodegrades and takes 500 years to break down naturally.
Polystyrene also contains chemicals such as benzene and styrene, which are both harmful to humans. Benzene is a known carcinogen that can leach into the food from the container, especially when the container is heated in a microwave, or even by hot food placed in the container. Styrene is a suspected carcinogen. Studies have shown that exposure to styrene can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. According to scientists, these chemicals do not have a significant impact on health. Thinking about it, most of us use plastic and plastic foam products on a daily basis so with increased exposure to these carcinogens, these “small amounts” add up.
So, next time you are deciding between plastic, paper, or foam – consider the impacts.