Expanded polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam®, is a material used to manufacture a variety of food packaging products. This material is used as a substitute for plastic material because it is cheap and widely available. But just like regular plastic products, Styrofoam® is just as destructive to the environment.
What is Styrofoam®?
Styrofoam® is a petroleum-based plastic. Extracting the raw material and producing Styrofoam®-based products require a lot of energy. Just like plastic, Styrofoam® is lightweight so it floats in water and maintains its form. Because it does not break down, Styrofoam® has to be incinerated at extremely high temperatures to process the waste. Incinerating Styrofoam® causes noxious fumes to pollute the air and wreak havoc on the planet’s atmosphere.
In the late 80s, Styrofoam® manufacturers became the 5th largest producers of toxic waste in the world. The environmental problems of making Styrofoam® products are not only harming the environment and wildlife, even the workers are also suffering from the ill effects of styrene exposure. Styrene is the basic component of polystyrene, the material used in making Styrofoam® plastic. Exposure to styrene leads to a variety of health problems ranging from skin irritation to respiratory ailments and even cancer.
The Environmental Impact of Using Styrofoam® Products
Styrofoam® products are so widely used for food packaging that most of us do not realize how detrimental these products are to the environment. Below are just a few of the environmental effects of Styrofoam®:
It won’t Degrade
Did you know that it takes about 500 years for Styrofoam® plastic to break down? Worse, the recycling options for Styrofoam® is limited. Once you use and throw Styrofoam® cups into the trash, the waste you created will last for centuries to come!
Because of the severe effects of Styrofoam® to the environment, most countries have banned the commercial use of Styrofoam®. Unfortunately, Styrofoam® products are still being manufactured by the tons every day. In addition, tons of Styrofoam® wastes end up in landfills. Because Styrofoam® wastes do not degrade; they end up filling more landfill space, accounting for 20% to 30% of landfill space around the world. This means we are losing free space for our trash and Styrofoam® is the main culprit.
Styrofoam® causes Pollution and Contamination
Apart from taking virtually forever to biodegrade, Styrofoam® products release chemicals that pollute the air and soil. Styrofoam debris also blocks waterways and pollute the oceans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the styrene in Styrofoam® is a carcinogenic compound.
When used to pack food products, particularly warm foods, Styrofoam® chemicals leach into foods, effectively contaminating the products. When heated for processing, Styrofoam® material generates noxious fumes that pollute the air and cause a variety of health problems, particularly respiratory ailments. When exposed to sunlight, Styrofoam® wastes pollute the air, depleting the ozone layer. When buried in landfills, Styrofoam® plastic contaminates the soil.
Harmful to Wildlife
Because Styrofoam® products are lightweight; they do not sink in water. Marine animals tend to mistake Styrofoam® wastes for food and when ingested, Styrofoam® wastes become a choking hazard to animals, causing deaths. Even land animals are not spared from the harmful effects of Styrofoam® plastic. Styrofoam® wastes harm the animals that scavenge for food in landfills, causing massive die-offs that also affect the environment.
What Can You Do to Minimize the Environmental Impacts of Styrofoam®
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a staggering 74 billion Styrofoam cups and plates are thrown in the trash every year in the US alone. Here are ways to minimize the environmental effects of Styrofoam:
Reuse and Recycle
Some food stores and supermarkets are still using Styrofoam products for food packaging. You can reduce the environmental effects of Styrofoam by collecting discarded food packaging products and either reuse them or send them to a local recycling plant. Recycled blocks of Styrofoam can be used for personal or business purposes.
If your neighborhood is littered with Styrofoam wastes, pick up the trash and dispose of it properly. You might think you are not doing much by picking up trash but you are preventing Styrofoam wastes from ending up in waterways or clogging sewer lines!
Just Say No
If you can, avoid buying products packed in Styrofoam packaging. If Styrofoam cups and plates are used in your favorite restaurant, request for a much earth-friendly packaging politely. If that’s not possible, bring your own lunch box, ceramic mug, and/or glass containers so you don’t have to use Styrofoam plates or cups.
Use Compostable Disposables
If you are throwing a party or hosting a special event, choose compostable disposables such as wood plates and cutlery instead of Styrofoam or single-use plastic products. Compostable disposables like ECO Homeware’s premium wood plates are made from sustainable biomaterials that break down naturally. These plates are not only earth-friendly; they are also bleach-free, pesticide-free, chlorine and dye-free so they biodegrade without leaching harmful chemicals to the soil and waterways. These eco-friendly plates are not only sturdy and dependable; they provide the same convenience of single-use plastic products without the guilt. Compostable wood plates break down without using any energy at all. These plates are backyard compostable, simply discard the plates in your compost pit and you’re good to go.
Styrofoam® use and improper disposal are the major cause of the planet’s worsening trash problem. By using eco-friendly alternatives such as compostable, disposable wood plates and cups, you are not contributing to the problem. ECO Homeware offers an elegant selection of disposable wood plates! Check out our latest collection here.