Summer is finally here –time for picnics! I can buy 170 Styrofoam plates for just $3.97. What a bargain! Or not. Time to “Pause”.
In 1937, Dow Chemical introduced Styrofoam to the US, an expanded polystyrene foam petroleum based product. A 1986 an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Report named the process of creating polystyrene as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. In 2000 the EPA determined styrene as a possible human carcinogen.
Many sources report, by volume Styrofoam uses 25-30 percent of the landfill space. Once there, it never decomposes, breaking down into smaller pieces. The wind carries these particles and other Styrofoam litter throughout the environment and into our waterways. Styrofoam is disastrous for animals, birds, and marine life as they mistaken these toxic particles for food, choking them and clogging their digestive systems. As Styrofoam accumulates, it also puts our health at risk when we eat fish.
Styrofoam is commonly used for egg cartons, beverage cups, plates, bowls, produce/meat trays, take-out food and packaging peanuts. The Sierra Club reports each year Americans throw away 2.5 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, enough to circle the earth 436 times – just One Styrofoam product!
While technology for recycling polystyrenes is available, the melt-down process is toxic, the market is very small, it is not cost effective and not available locally.
Progress is being made. Some entities are outlawing polystyrene foam (Taiwan, Portland, New York City and several cities in California). Scientists are developing alternatives. Bagasse take-out containers made of crushed stalks of sugar cane and sturdy paper boxes are now available.
How can you help? Use your Consumer Purchasing Power and stop buying it and help me educate store and restaurant managers and your friends! Instead of Styrofoam coffee cups, use reusable mugs or paper insulated cups. Instead of Styrofoam plates and bowls, use reusable dishware, or paper plates. Give UPS Styrofoam peanuts to reuse; instead use shredded newspaper or real popcorn. Don’t buy take-out food unless they use bagasse, paper boxes/bags or aluminum foil – better yet, bring your own container. Take your Styrofoam egg cartons to the Farmer’s Market for reuse and grab some goodies. Avoid produce packaged in Styrofoam trays! Throw big Styrofoam packaging blocks into your attic for insulation. Event Organizers – Use paper insulated cups, #1 plastic cups (recyclable) & fiber or bagasse clamshells, paper bags or aluminum foil. And pick up Styrofoam litter so it doesn’t have a chance to break-down and wreak havoc! We need to tackle this menace!