Polystyrene Info (Also Known As Styrofoam)
Polystyrene foam is everywhere. You and I both see it each and every day in a multitude of different uses; most of which in my opinion are outdated and tragic. There are just as many reasons to ban this substance as there are uses for it.
It is used in building materials, packaging, disposable cups, food trays, and because of it’s flammability (it uses benzene in it’s production) it is used in weapons of mass destruction such as hydrogen bombs and napalm. Because of the benzene, this particular form of plastic is a carcinogenic and causes massive amounts of air pollution during both the manufacturing process and when it is burned after it is used.
Now, all Styrofoam is polystyrene; but not all polystyrene is Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a particular form of polystyrene foam and is a trademark of the Dow chemical company.
Polystyrene environmental concerns
One of the horrible things about Polystyrene foam is that it takes hundreds of years to break down naturally. Animals have also been known to eat the foam and it causes them to starve by blocking their digestive tract. It is an increasingly prolific pollutant in our waterways as well, as you can see in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
I am pretty shocked that in this day and age we allow food products to be stored in and on this toxic petroleum based substance at all. A couple dozen cities in the US have lead the way to ban the substance, though we still lag behind countries such as China who have banned it outright. In China, they have moved on to use more Eco-friendly alternatives such as sugar cane pulp, a trend I hope to see here in North America.
Unfortunately for us and our ecosystem, many recycling programs don’t accept polystyrene. One reason for this is that it takes up a lot of room in storage given it’s bulky nature.
It is highly unlikely that the manufacturing and use of this toxic substance will be discontinued for a long time to come given it’s relatively cheap price to purchase and manufacture. Although we can do our best to buy products that do not utilize the foam, we need to deal with the substance that is currently taking up our landfill space and polluting our waterways.
Burning polystyrene is bad news
Many people still burn the substance to be rid of it and this is bad news. Many people think that because chloro-fluoro hydrocarbons were eliminated from the manufacturing process of polystyrene foam it is safe to burn. They are wrong.
Styrene gas is emitted when burned which is known to affect the human nervous system (along with other animal species I am sure). It also emits a black, sooty smoke, indicating that it does not burn away completely. This means that a toxic array of chemicals is released into the air affecting the surrounding ecosystem negatively. Scary stuff considering a backyard pit burns at relatively low temperatures.
Keeping polystyrene out of the waste stream
In my eyes, polystyrene recycling is at a critical junction here in the US. Our country uses tons of polystyrene and Styrofoam every month and recycling programs fro it are difficult to come by. A pound of polystyrene recycled is a pound of new polystyrene that doesn’t have to be created.
Currently, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging is being recycled yearly at a rate of around 10-12% here in the United States. This means that around 90% of the Styrofoam and polystyrene we use is thrown into landfills and waterways. There is a simple way to find out how to recycle polystyrene though…
…just go to http://earth911.com/recycling/plastic/number-6-plastic-polystyrene/ and type in your zip code. The closest polystyrene recycling centers to your home will come up in the search results!
If you have any tips or ideas about recycling Styrofoam or polystyrene foam, leave a comment below.