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    Styrofoam: Why it is harmful, and alternatives

    Styrofoam is a major environmental problem. Used in product packages and the shipping industry, the world produces tons of it each year. The fact that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable adds to the ecological impact. Landfills are filling up at a record rate and Styrofoam is one reason. Styrofoam has the potential to affect the entire ecological

    Styrofoam: Why it is harmful, and alternatives

    BY SUSTAINABILITY OFFICE ON NOVEMBER 10, 2011

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    Styrofoam is a major environmental problem. Used in product packages and the shipping industry, the world produces tons of it each year. The fact that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable adds to the ecological impact. Landfills are filling up at a record rate and Styrofoam is one reason. Styrofoam has the potential to affect the entire ecological system of this planet.

    Statistics

    The Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986. Over 90,000 workers face exposure to the effects of styrene, the material in Styrofoam, each year in industries such as rubber and fiberglass manufacturing companies. Health effects from exposure to styrene are irritation of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract and gastrointestinal problems. Chronic exposure affects the nervous system, causing symptoms like depression, headache, fatigue and weakness, and minor effects on kidney function and blood.

    Non-Biodegradable

    Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. According to Washington University, Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose; it cannot be recycled, so the Styrofoam cups dumped in landfills are there to stay. With enough Styrofoam cups produced each day to circle the earth if lined up end to end, the potential for major ecological impact is great.

    Pollutants

    Styrene leaches into foods and drinks served in Styrofoam containers, and according to the Earth Resource Foundation, the manufacture of Styrofoam releases large amounts of ozone into the atmosphere, causing respiratory and environmental issues. In addition, with billions of Styrofoam cups used yearly in convenience stores, restaurants and lunchrooms ending up in landfills, some cities have banned the use of Styrofoam.

    Landfills

    Styrofoam and Styrofoam products fill up 30 percent of our landfill space, and landfills are fast becoming full. A Recycling Revolution reports that packaging material makes up one-third of an average dump. The U.S. is the biggest trash producer in the world, filling America’s landfills at an alarming rate. Five percent of the world’s population generate 40 percent of the world’s trash. On average, each one of us puts out about 5 pounds of trash a day. This adds up to about a ton of trash per person every year that eventually ends up in a landfill.

    Solutions

    The solution to the Styrofoam problem is finding and using alternative materials. If reusable dishes are not an option in your office, recycled paper products are the next best alternative, according to Earth Resource Foundation. Paper recycling also saves trees and contributes to an overall savings when compared to Styrofoam. Paper products are biodegradable and non-toxic to the environment. Easily recycled, paper is good for shipping and product packaging.

    Get more information about styrofoam.

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    The Facts On Styrofoam: Reduce and Reuse

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    What is Styrofoam?

    Styrofoam is a trademark named for a chemical compound called polystyrene.  Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic made from styrene monomers.  It is a light-weight material, about 95% air with very good insulation properties.  Because of the amount of air in its structure, Styrofoam is considered to be unsinkable and capable of maintaining its form.  Styrofoam does not degrade or break down over time. Styrofoam can be destroyed if it is incinerated at extremely high temperatures, creating only a small amount of water and carbon as by products. However if it is burned in a normal fire instead of in a specialized incinerator, it releases pollutants such as carbon black and carbon monoxide.

    Styrofoam Statistics

    The Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986. Over 90,000 workers face exposure to the effects of styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, each year in industries such as rubber and fiberglass manufacturing companies. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Health effects from exposure to styrene include irritation of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract and gastrointestinal problems.

    Non-Biodegradable Pollutant

    It is unknown how long it takes for polystyrene to biodegrade. Some experts estimate the decomposition of Styrofoam to 500 years, with limited recycling options. When used with food products, especially when heated, Styrofoam releases toxic chemicals into the food causing a contamination which can be hazardous to your health In addition, when exposed to sunlight,Styrofoam creates harmful air pollutants which contaminate landfills and deplete the ozone layer. Styrofoam is one of the most environmentally unfriendly types of waste that exist today impacting our planets ecological system.

    Styrofoam Impacts on Landfills

    Styrofoam is a major environmental problem.  Every day, approximately 1,369 tons of Styrofoam is buried into U.S. landfills. Landfills are quickly filling up and Styrofoam is an active contributor occupying more space than other waste. By volume, Styrofoam products fill up 25 to 30 percent of landfill space around the world. According to The Way To Go environmental group, Hong Kong landfills disposed of 135 tons of polystyrene waste every day in 2006. Due to the environmental impact, many cities and countries have implemented a banned on the commercial use of Styrofoam, including California; Seattle, Washington; Manila, Philippines; Toronto, Canada; Paris, France; Portland Oregon; and Taiwan)

    Styrofoam Impacts on Animals

    Styrofoam can harm animals that scavenge food from landfills. Styrofoam products have the tendency of easily breaking apart into small pieces making it a choke hazard to animals.

    Reduce And Reuse Styrofoam

    Some businesses collect  Styrofoam for reuse and recycling. Check with local

    packaging stores in your area; most of them will accept Styrofoam pellets for reuse.  Another method to reduce the use of Styrofoam is choosing eco-friendly alternative products instead.  The packaging and food industries  have begun  introducing environmental friendly packaging alternatives to the market, such as air cushions and biodegradable food packaging.  Compared to Styrofoam, these two new eco-friendly alternatives help reduce pollution and conserve landfill airspace.

    Did You Know?

    Every ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees, 60,000 gallons of water, 225 kilowatt hours of electricity, 350

    pounds of limestone, 275 pounds of sulfur, 9,000 pounds of steam, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill airspace.

    One tree yields about 700 paper grocery bags, which will be consumed in less than 1 hour by a supermarket.

    Recycling 14 trees worth of paper reduces air pollutants by 165,142 tons.

    A recycled aluminum can is back on the grocery shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days.

    We use over 80,000,000,000 aluminum soda cans every year.

    Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year.

    About one-third of an average landfill's waste is made up of packaging material.

    Out of every $10 spent buying things, $1 (10%) goes for packaging that is thrown away. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.

    Source : www.colliercountyfl.gov

    How Long Does it Take for Styrofoam to Break Down?

    Estimates for the breakdown of Styrofoam in the environment range from 500 to 1 million years. Rather than degrade, it breaks into pieces.

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    Pros & Cons of Styrofoam

    Updated April 19, 2018

    By Max Roman Dilthey

    Though it has many uses and benefits, Styrofoam, a brand name for polystyrene foam, takes a hefty toll on the environment. Estimates vary for the breakdown of Styrofoam from a few years to as much as 1 million, depending on environmental conditions. Because of the harm this solid waste causes to the environment, many places have banned the petroleum-based material, including Orange County in California and the city of Portland, Oregon.

    Chemical Stability

    In Styrofoam, atoms are bonded to one another strongly, making it very stable. Because of this stability, the plastic repels water, and resists acids, bases, salts and other corrosive substances. It is non-toxic. It has a long shelf life, making it convenient and cost-effective for businesses. It doesn't grow mold or bacteria, so it stays sanitary in storage, and helps keep food safe. The downside to Styrofoam's chemical stability is, once in the environment, it can remain for generations.

    Modes of Breakdown

    Although it resists most chemicals, Styrofoam is sensitive to sunlight in a process called photodegradation, or "breakdown by light." Over months, continual exposure to sunlight affects the outer layer of the plastic, discoloring it and turning it into a powdery substance. Because of this action, thin styrofoam packaging can break down in a few years. Inside a landfill and shielded from light, however, no such breakdown takes place. In addition to photodegradation, a process called leaching can occur when the plastic becomes excessively hot. Under these conditions, tiny amounts of styrene can seep out of the plastic and contaminate anything packaged in it.

    Million-Year Lifespan

    Styrofoam is commonly used in disposable products that are only used once. These products can persist in the environment for more than a million years, however, since polystyrene is not biodegradable. Though it is slow to break down chemically, Styrofoam does however fragment into small pieces, choking animals that ingest it, clogging their digestive systems. Styrofoam and other plastics currently make up about 30 percent of the landfill volume in the United States.

    Styrofoam Alternatives

    Some restaurants and food vendors have substituted cardboard and paper products for Styrofoam in cups, fast-food "clamshells" and other food packaging. Especially in the presence of moisture, paper fibers break down within weeks to months. Biodegradable alternatives such as "soapstock waste" from agricultural operations can replace Styrofoam for protecting packages, and recycled paper can be used for cups, eliminating some Styrofoam waste.

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    References

    University of Illinois: The Pros and Cons of Styrofoam

    About the Author

    Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.

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    Pros & Cons of Styrofoam

    •••

    Updated June 25, 2018

    By Kristina Barroso

    Styrofoam is probably not what you think it is. Technically, Styrofoam is the trademark name for a product that's used to insulate buildings. The white little cups and cheap takeout containers that you might think of as Styrofoam are made of something similar called expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS. Much like the debate over paper versus plastic, the use of EPS for foam food ware and packing materials remains an ongoing controversy between companies looking out for their bottom line and environmentalists looking out for Mother Earth. Like anything else, EPS has both advantages and disadvantages.

    Advantages of EPS

    The food service industry generally favors EPS for food ware because it’s less expensive than other products and provides better insulation, which helps keep food fresh longer. EPS creates versatile containers that can maintain temperatures for both hot and cold food and beverage items. While opponents of EPS argue that it's bad for the environment, manufacturing products from polystyrene uses less energy and resources than their paper counterparts. EPS products weigh less than paper, which helps reduce air emissions during transportation.

    Source : sciencing.com

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