Alyssa GertenMrs. Shepherd English III18 January 2018We Need to Stop Using Styrofoam Styrofoam and styrofoam products fill up 30% of the landfill space because it is not biodegradable. Styrofoam is the name for polystyrene foam. It is very light-weight, consisting of about 95% air.
Styrofoam is used in products such as cups to keep beverages hot. Because styrofoam does not decompose, it is harmful to the environment and soil. Styrofoam is a kind of expanded polystyrene. It is made from polystyrene beads that heat up and expand. Styrofoam was first introduced to the United States in 1954 (Bellis).
It is used for many things such as installation, packing materials, egg cartons, and even school projects. The most common use for styrofoam is for drinking cups, plates, and take-out containers because it keeps food and drinks insulated. The packing styrofoam usually comes in loose forms called peanuts (Miller, Mohazzebi, Pasewark, Fagan). They are used as packing styrofoam because during shipping it will help keep the product from moving around and possibly breaking (“Facts About Landfill & Styrofoam”). Styrofoam can be used for roofs and slabs in panel form. It’s helps keep the natural elements from entering the interior. Styrofoam isn’t just a good insulator for temperature, it is also a good sound barrier that can be used for home theaters and recording studios. Many companies have changed from styrofoam to using more environmental means.
It is still largely used for coffee cups and take-out containers because it is cheap and convenient. Styrofoam has contaminated and affected the environment and our health. When thrown away, styrofoam does not break down or decompose leaving it in our environment for many years.
It has also been found on the shores of the oceans which makes up for a large amount of marine debris. This also affects the animals in the wild because it may get in their airways, contaminating their resources, and causing digestive problems. The process of making styrofoam pollutes the air and creates large amounts of waste. Collected styrofoam cups are not remanufactured into cups, but into other products such as packing peanuts and cafeteria trays (Miller, Mohazzebi, Pasewark, Fagan). There are many health concerns that may pose a threat to human life because of styrofoam. It can leach into people’s food causing many health problems (Friend). Foam cups lose weight during the time they are used meaning styrene is ingested by the consumer. Styrene has been found in 100 percent of human tissue samples (Miller, Mohazzebi, Pasewark, Fagan).
Short term health effects are irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract. Chronic exposure affects the nervous system showing symptoms of depression, headache, fatigue, and can cause minor effects on the kidney functions. It has also affected the menstrual cycle of women exposed to styrofoam. There are many alternatives to styrofoam. Products such as recycled paper, bamboo, and corn plastic are easily renewable resources (Miller, Mohazzebi, Pasewark, Fagan). All of these products will biodegrade when they are decomposed. An alternative could be to use paper or cardboard products which can be recycled and are not as nearly as harmful to the environment and living things.
Another alternative to styrofoam is made from sugar cane. Instead of throwing out the unused sugar cane stalks, the pulp is used to make a paper like product that is excellent to use to hold food. It has a high heat tolerance and can be put in the microwave (Miller, Mohazzebi, Pasewark, Fagan). It may become costly in the future but it may be worth it in order to lower the amount of waste we produce. Once a lot more companies start using alternatives the price should go down because it will be more in demand. Cornstarch products are also another option.
The starch is replaced by the petroleum that is used to make plastic containers. Also using reusable containers is always an option. About 100 cities across the United States have eliminated styrofoam usage for take-out containers. Banning styrofoam has mostly been due to citizen complaints. Even McDonald’s saw the downfalls of styrofoam and switched to paper containers years ago (“Why You Should Never Use Styrofoam Again”). There are some advantages and disadvantages of using styrofoam. Some advantages would be that it is a sanitary product for one-time food and beverage use. Styrofoam has a low cost of purchase.
The manufacturing process is not necessarily more harmful than the process for paper (Friend). There are also some disadvantages. It is non-biodegradable in the environment.
It is made from non-renewable petroleum products (Friend). Styrofoam can take up to 30% of the garbage volume in landfills. Because of the landfill strategy of compacting the garage and then packing dirt on top, nothing breaks down as it should, and it winds up giving paper the same decomposition time as styrofoam. Styrofoam captures water from seeping into the soil and therefore allows water to soak garbage until it’s almost a soup-like mixture. When heavy rain comes, this soup escapes the styrofoam barrier onto the landfill lining or more likely off into our soil and groundwater. Although styrofoam breaks down into small pieces easily, it will take about 500 years for one cup to dissolve. There are over 25 million styrofoam cups thrown away each year.
Our environment needs to take action against the usage of styrofoam. Knowing the harmful effects of styrofoam, it is important to eliminate its usage. The goal is to eliminate the use of styrofoam and spread awareness about how it destroys the environment and consumer health.