6 Reasons to Avoid Use of Styrofoam

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Posted 11 Apr 2017 in Application

The good news is that a slowly growing number of cities around the world are phasing out or banning styrofoam. So far, more than 100 cities have some type of ban on foam products. The latest city on the list is San Francisco, whose ban affecting packing peanuts, ice chests, to-go coffee cups, meat and fish trays, and dock floats goes into effect January 1, 2017. The city already had a ban on take-out containers since 2007. Why all the fuss about these lightweight products? If your city hasn’t banned Styrofoam yet, you may want to initiate the process after reading this list.

1. Puts toxins in your food. Would you like some toxins with your coffee, soup, or beer? “Trace amounts of styrene as well as various chemical additives in styrofoam migrate into food, which increases significantly in hot liquids,” according to Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. Although each individual dose may be very low, think about the cumulative effect! How many cups of coffee or microwaved noodles in styrofoam cups have you consumed?

Foods and beverages in styrofoam that are more likely to leach toxic substances include those that are hot (e.g., coffee, tea, soup, chili, reheated leftovers), oily (e.g., French fries, burgers, pizza, salad dressings), and/or contain acid (e.g., tomatoes, citrus) or alcohol (e.g., beer, wine). The pictures above say it all. I personally took it a couple of weeks ago when my mother asked me for a cup of tea at an affair we were at. You can see from the picture how the cup started breaking down in the hot liquid. I showed it to the people in the room and they couldn’t believe it.

Along with being a possible carcinogen, styrene is also a neurotoxin and accumulates in fatty tissue. The adverse health effects associated with exposure to styrene include fatigue, reduced ability to concentrate, increase in abnormal pulmonary function, disrupted hormone function (including thyroid), headache, and irritation of the eyes and nose. Check out the “Worker exposure” bullet for more about the impact of exposure to styrene.

2. Puts workers in danger. Tens of thousands of workers are exposed to styrene in the manufacture of rubber, plastics, and resins. Chronic exposure is associated with central nervous system symptoms, including headache, fatigue, weakness, impaired hearing, and depression as well as effects on kidney function. A new study (2016) reported excess numbers of deaths associated with lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among such workers.

3. Lasts (almost) forever. It takes about 500 years for styrofoam to decompose in the environment. Since the vast majority of styrofoam is not recycled (see “What you can do”), our landfills are harboring a significant amount of polystyrene: by volume, 25 to 30 percent of landfill materials are plastics, including Styrofoam.

4. Contributes to air pollution and climate change. If styrofoam is burned or incinerated, it releases toxic carbon monoxide into the air. If you burn trash or have a fireplace, never ever burn styrofoam. The manufacturing process for styrofoam also releases harmful hydrocarbons, which combine with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight and form a dangerous air pollutant at ground level called tropospheric ozone, which is associated with health effects such as wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, asthma, and bronchitis.

5. Comes from a non-sustainable source.Styrofoam is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable product. This Styrofoam-like product is an environmental hazard from start to finish!

6. Harms wildlife. Styrofoam often makes its way into the environment, especially waterways. As it breaks down, the pieces are frequently consumed by both land and marine animals, causing blockage of their digestive system, choking, and death.

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