Styrofoam Be Gone!


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!


10-5-13 Sugar Creek MRR effot
Styrofoam mess cleaned up on Sugar Creek, MO during event hosted by Missouri River Relief 2014

Single Use Plastic Water Bottles

In the early 1960s high-density polyethylene was introduced making plastic bottles inexpensive to produce.  By the early 1970s the food industry replaced glass with plastic – lighter & cheaper.  In the mid 70s, beverage containers became the fastest growing component of solid waste.  Reusable beverage containers required extra labor and valuable space so grocery stores welcomed disposables.   A private-to-social cost shift occurred.  Instead of the industry, now the consumer, municipal refuse collection and environment dealt with the waste.   Although deposit laws reduce litter & beverage container consumption, save energy, increase jobs and stabilize prices, they are difficult to pass and keep due to beverage and retail industries lobby efforts.  While Columbia, MO had a deposit law in place 1982-2002, the industry finally succeeded in repealing the law after 5 attempts.

The Pacific Institute reports in 2006, “producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation; Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water”.  Widely quoted – the US consumes over 50 billion single serve bottles of water a year – 95,000 per minute!  If an ambitious 23% of those are recycled, still over 38 billion bottles end up in the landfill or litter our streets, parks and waterways.    Once in the landfills, they slowly release toxic chemicals that leak into our water system.  Bottom line – Plastic is a non-renewable resource, it is energy and resource intensive to produce, highly toxic and takes 700+ years to biodegrade.

These disposables keep growing and growing.  Among other swirling pools, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now roughly the size of Texas with churning plastic bottles, plastic bags and Styrofoam.  These growing piles of plastic garbage have a devastating effect on sea life, threaten our wildlife and natural areas, and make our world less beautiful and healthy.

As though that isn’t enough – The Sierra Club reports the bottled water industry led by Nestle’, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are aggressively taping natural springs and aquifers, which can lead to depletion in wetlands, lakes and wells.  40% of bottled water usually comes from municipal tap water such as Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina brands.  They are commoditizing our access to safe and affordable water.

The marketers of bottled water have convinced the public that their water is cleaner, tastier and healthier than tap water.  It’s no wonder they are pursuing groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can.  They are making a fortune!  Consumers are willing to pay 1000-5000 times more for the privilege of drinking bottled water instead of tap water.

Is bottled water healthier?  Water is most frequently bottled in #1 PET or PETE bottles (polyethylene terephthalate).  Experts say those bottles shouldn’t be re-used since they may leach DEHP, a probable human carcinogen.  Bottled water is regulated by the FDA which has lower standards and inspects less frequently than the EPA regulations for tap water.  And the FDA doesn’t test any waters packaged and sold within a single state – 60-70% of all bottled water.

Sound overwhelming??  Remember – we are the consumers so we have some say!

Don’t buy single-use disposable water bottles!!  When home, use glass to avoid all possible plastic chemicals.  For water on the go, use stainless steel or a PBA free water bottles.

Filtered water – Use a filter pitcher, install a faucet-filter, or buy a bottle with a built-in filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria.  Under the sink osmosis filters are effective and convenient.

Entertaining – Get out the water jug!  Purchase a stash of reusable plastic glasses (safest plastics are marked on the bottom 2, 4, or 5) from thrift stores or #1 plastic cups that can be recycled.  Also use eco-friendly plant starch cutlery and biodegradable paper plates.

Recycle – Products made from recycled plastics are endless – Deck Lumber, park benches, fabric, clothes, carpet, and recycled art.  Plastic bridges are being built throughout the US.  Peeblesshire, Scotland has a 30 meter long bridge made entirely out of waste plastic products.

Join the Sierra Club and other organizations that fight for environmental causes & make your Votes count.

Pick up litter – Recycle what is fairly clean.

Good News – The Grand Canyon has banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles due to the threat to wildlife and to reduce waste. Other National Parks are installing water filling stations so visitors can fill their water bottles. Concord, Massachusetts recently banned single-use beverage bottles and Chicago instituted a 5 cent tax per bottle.

Progress is being made – Be a part of that change!  Speak up; spend your dollars wisely.