The Styrofoam Dilemma

Styrofoam is a brand name of The Dow Chemical Company for polystyrene, the common material used to hold your morning cup of joe or to package up your valuables.  While the material has many useful abilities, the nature of its production and disposal outweigh its benefits, making it far worse than what we make plastic out to be. 

The two main components of Styrofoam are Styrene and petroleum, both harmful to people and to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has considered Styrene as a probable human carcinogen. There are numerous health risks for the workers that use Styrene to produce polystyrene, such as skin irritations, respiratory problems, Central Nervous System damage, such as depression and fatigue, and even cancer. Even for those who do not produce Styrofoam, but live near production facilities, have the potential for illness because of the harmful toxins and solid wastes released into the air and nearby streams. If not disposed of properly, Styrofoam is even dangerous to animals because it can be broken up into small pieces very easily, producing a choking hazard. In addition, it takes an extremely long time to break down, and is among the group of plastics that take up 1/3 of landfill space.

The thought of simply recycling Styrofoam as part of the solution is not that easy because of the implications involved in the recycling process. Certain technologies must be used to break down polystyrene, so with the technology not quite up to par, there must be a large demand for the recycling of Styrofoam in order to increase its avaiability. Finding a curbside service to pick up any used polystyrene is slim to none, but with some research, drop-off centers can be found. You can search recycling centers, what materials they accept, and whether they take part in commercial or residential services by going to the Earth911 website, but when searching keep in mind that polystyrene is considered a #6 plastic.

We can conclude that Styrofoam is not a very sustainable product, but it can be hard to sustain without the material completely in a world that uses it daily. With all of the lobbying one could do against its unhealthy production, what matters in the current moment is taking responsibility for our individual impact. When faced with having to use Styrofoam, whether its the only type of cup at your morning meeting, or is what holds your food from your favorite take-out restaurant, just remember to do your part and recycle it.

2 replies
  1. Alan
    Alan says:

    A small clarification, although your points are still valid: In the United States and Canada, the word styrofoam incorrectly refers to expanded (not extruded) polystyrene foam, such as disposable coffee cups, coolers, or cushioning material in packaging, which is typically white and is made of expanded polystyrene beads. Source: “STYROFOAM™ – It’s Not a Cup” Dow Chemical Company

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