While we’ve made great strides in eco-friendliness over the past few years, we’re still plagued by styrofoam. Here’s why you should stop using it now – if you haven’t already.
Styrofoam (technically this is a brand-name, like Kleenex, but somehow we’ve all taken up using it in general to mean any type of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam) is not only a massive problem in our landfills (literally – its mass is estimated to take up 20-30% of our current landfill space), but also contains toxic chemicals that can leech into our water supply.
Not to mention, it takes virtually forever to decompose, and while it is technically recyclable, most facilities are not equipped to recycle it, at least in the U.S..
If those 4 reasons aren’t enough to convince you to give up styrofoam coffee cups, here are some more eye-opening facts:
According to the EPA, Americans throw away 25 billion EPS cups every year and a cup that gets tossed today will still be in the landfill 500 years from now. It’s also bulky, as the foam is designed to resist compression…. While the PS resin (#6) used to make EPS products is used less frequently than the other plastic resins (see full report from the EPA), it also has the lowest “recovery” rate of the resins, at 0.8%. This means that 99.2% of our waste EPS spends its retirement in a landfill (at best) or in more problematic locales like waterways or oceanic garbage patches….
…Polystyrene is made from the styrene monomer…. The US National Toxicology Program (which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services) has added styrene to its list of potential carcinogenic compounds. Similar warnings on heavy exposure to styrene have been issued by the EPA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), and many others. Another known carcinogen, benzene, is also a chemical component of polystyrene foam.
One disappointing fact is that the technology to recycle polystyrene exists. But lack of a market for recycled polystyrene, the high costs of putting in place a facility, and the high costs of shipping the material (again, because it’s so bulky) prevent this from being common practice, at least in the US.
Until there are better solutions, here are a few things you can do:
1. The obvious: avoid polystyrene cups (and encourage family, friends and co-workers to do the same), reuse your packing peanuts, and use alternatives when possible (some retailers now offer biodegradable packing peanuts).
2. Sign a petition to ban EPS in your city
3. Find a foam recycler near you using these resources: Alliance of Foam Packing Recyclers (AFPR), Earth 911.
To learn more, check out the full article at TerraPass.com.