Why Not Styrofoam?
Environmental Issues of Polystyrene
Polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, is often the material of choice for many meat production companies and to go containers for takeout, often because of its low cost point, and it is easily manufactured; although this material is widely used it poses substantial threats to both human health and the environment as a whole.
500 Years to Decompose…
Large quantities of polystyrene are used every day, and are often disposed of in household trash bins and make their way to landfills. By volume, the amount of space used up in landfills by all plastics is between 25 and 30%*. This is an issue because of Styrofoam’s inability to quickly breakdown, in fact, Styrofoam takes approximately 500 years to breakdown, and even greater lengths of time if buried (like in a landfill), as an example America was founded in 1776, making it 241 years old, meaning if the founding fathers used Styrofoam it would still be around today, and last more than 200 additional years.
Further issues are created from the lack of ability for Styrofoam to decompose, due to its often-light nature and fragility, Styrofoam can often blow away from refuse disposal centers and enter public drain systems or exposed waterways and end up in the ocean. During the materials journey it often breaks into smaller pieces and is consumed by marine life, which may cause them harm of potentially kill them. It also hard to contain and collect in the ocean and may have negative impacts on the tourist industry if not addressed quickly enough. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
Human Health Concerns
There are substantial human health concerns when discussing Polystyrene/Styrofoam, it has been shown to cause cancer in animals, however this has not necessarily been shown to be true in humans as well, however polystyrene shows negative impacts on human health in different ways. Styrene primarily exhibits its toxicity to humans as a neurotoxin by attacking the central and peripheral nervous systems. The accumulation of these highly lipid-soluble (fat-soluble) materials in the lipid-rich tissues of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves is correlated with acute or chronic functional impairment of the nervous system.
Can you Recycle Polystyrene?
The answer is yes, technically polystyrene can be recycled but its efficiency as far as reusing the material is limited, in many cases it poses substantial food safety concerns because of a difficult sterilization process, and is often labor intensive. These limiting factors have led to a reduction in polystyrene recycling facilities, making the issue of polystyrene in landfills an even greater concern.
* “Polystyrene Fact Sheet” Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, Los Angeles, California.
Which Cities Have Banned Plastic Foam?
Washington, DC has joined the ranks of cities that have banned plastic foam products (commonly called Styrofoam). On July 14, 2014, DC lawmakers passed the second and final round of a bill called “Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2014,” which includes a ban on the product in restaurants and businesses.
Currently, all bans have appeared on a citywide or countywide level. Some of the cities and counties listed on the map below have complete bans on Styrofoam and other polystyrene foam, which includes all places of business and public facilities. Others have enacted partial bans, regarding foam use in public facilities.