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The Harmful damages of using polystyrene (styrofoam) for our health and environment

Polystyrene products are made with petroleum, and a number of other non-sustainable, toxic and heavily-polluting ingredients. It’s not recyclable, and once it goes to the landfill it virtually never breaks down. Ever. And leaves toxins into your food or drink. It’s so bad to our health that it’s been banned in many places, all over the world.

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Polystyrene (styrofoam) is toxic

In June 2011 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added Styrene, the chemical found and released from polystyrene (styrofoam) products such as “to-go” food containers, cups and plates, to its list of materials that are anticipated to be carcinogens (putting people at increased risk for cancer). There is a reasonable chance that these toxic chemicals may leach from polystyrene products into the food or beverage that they contain.

Heating up polystyrene foam containers can cause the styrene to leach into the food or drinks. This toxin has no place in our bodies, schools, restaurants or homes.

Polystyrene (styrofoam) can’t be recyclable

Polystyrene can be remade into items as packing, but not into cups or food containers. Containers that have previously been used for food storage create a big problem food hygiene issue for recyclers. This is why many recyclers do not accept polystyrene.

And if you think that the Polystyrene (styrofoam) is recyclable because it has #6 recycling symbol, or is little brown color or even more in their presentation says “biodegradable”, guess what! It is not. The manufacturers choose not to tell you that foam containers aren’t biodegradable. In theory polystyrene can break down over 100 to 1 million years depending on the source.

Want to learn more about why to just say no to styrofoam?

6 Reasons to Avoid Use of Polystyrene

1. Puts toxins in your food. Would you like some toxins with your coffee, soup, or beer? “Trace amounts of styrene as well as various chemical additives in polystyrene migrate into food, which increases significantly in hot liquids,” according to Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. Although each individual dose may be very low, think about the cumulative effect! How many cups of coffee or microwaved noodles in polystyrene cups have you consumed?

Foods and beverages in polystyrene that are more likely to leach toxic substances include those that are hot (e.g., coffee, tea, soup, chili, reheated leftovers), oily (e.g., French fries, burgers, pizza, salad dressings), and/or contain acid (e.g., tomatoes, citrus) or alcohol (e.g., beer, wine). The pictures above say it all. I personally took it a couple of weeks ago when my mother asked me for a cup of tea at an affair we were at. You can see from the picture how the cup started breaking down in the hot liquid. I showed it to the people in the room and they couldn’t believe it.

Along with being a possible carcinogen, styrene is also a neurotoxin and accumulates in fatty tissue. The adverse health effects associated with exposure to styrene include fatigue, reduced ability to concentrate, increase in abnormal pulmonary function, disrupted hormone function (including thyroid), headache, and irritation of the eyes and nose. Check out the “Worker exposure” bullet for more about the impact of exposure to styrene.

2. Puts workers in danger. Tens of thousands of workers are exposed to styrene in the manufacture of rubber, plastics, and resins. Chronic exposure is associated with central nervous system symptoms, including headache, fatigue, weakness, impaired hearing, and depression as well as effects on kidney function. A new study (2016) reported excess numbers of deaths associated with lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among such workers.

3. Lasts (almost) forever. It takes about 500 years for polystyrene to decompose in the environment. Since the vast majority of polystyrene is not recycled (see “What you can do”), our landfills are harboring a significant amount of polystyrene: by volume, 25 to 30 percent of landfill materials are plastics, including Styrofoam.

4. Contributes to air pollution and climate change. If polystyrene is burned or incinerated, it releases toxic carbon monoxide into the air. If you burn trash or have a fireplace, never ever burn polystyrene.

The manufacturing process for polystyrene foam also releases harmful hydrocarbons, which combine with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight and form a dangerous air pollutant at ground level called tropospheric ozone, which is associated with health effects such as wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, asthma, and bronchitis.

5. Comes from a non-sustainable source. Polystyrene is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable product. This Styrofoam-like product is an environmental hazard from start to finish!

6. Harms wildlife. Polystyrene often makes its way into the environment, especially waterways. As it breaks down, the pieces are frequently consumed by both land and marine animals, causing blockage of their digestive system, choking, and death.

It’s use has been banned in many cities

Currently, all bans on polystyrene are at the city or county level. The following list includes a growing number of cities that have decided to ban polystyrene foam in foodservice products, including take-out containers, bowls, plates, trays, cups, and cutlery.

New York, NY - Takoma Park, MD - Seattle, WA - Washington DC - Miami Beach , FL - Freeport, ME - Portland, ME - Nantucket (City and county), MA - Minneapolis, MN - Portland, OR - Baltimore, MD - San Francisco, CA

So what can we, you and I, do today?

1. Be aware of the harmful effects of this product (from a health and environmental viewpoint) and tell others.

2. Choose compostable products, @greengoodpack offers a wide variety of high quality food packaging, Plant-Based products)

3. Switch your restaurant, coffeeshop, cafeteria or business to eco friendly, compostable alternatives. A growing number of local restaurants and coffee shops are switching to health-conscious, planet-friendly options -- thank them and tell them that it matters!

4. Ask your local takeaway restaurants to use a more health-conscious alternative to styrofoam. Many alternatives are now readily available and are made from materials such as post-consumer recycled paper, bagasse (sugarcane) and plant-based plastics.

Are you ready to make the change?


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