Everyone knows that Styrofoam is bad for the planet, but do you know exactly why? Here’s a hint: it’s not just about biodegradability. Styrofoam has become such an accepted everyday product that people often don’t understand how Styrofoam harms the environment.
Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, which is a petroleum-based plastic. Styrofoam is actually the trade name for polystyrene. It’s popular because of its light weight, good insulation properties, and advantage as a packing material for shipping without adding weight. Unfortunately, for all of Styrofoam’s good points, data has shown that Styrofoam also has harmful effects.styrofoam-garbage
On Human Health
Let’s take a look at the elements used to make Styrofoam. Styrene is the foundational ingredient used to make polystyrene. It is broadly used in the manufacture of plastics, resins and rubber. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have established styrene as a possible human carcinogen. Those who work in styrene product manufacturing and are regularly exposed to high levels of styrene have experienced acute health effects, including the following:
Irritation of the skin
Irritation of the eyes
Irritation of the upper respiratory tract
Chronic exposure to styrene leads to further complications, including effects on the nervous system. Symptoms of chronic exposure include those listed below:
Minor effects on kidney function
Styrofoam containers are commonly used for take-out food, but chemicals can leach into it and contaminate that food, affecting human health and reproductive systems. This effect is further accentuated if food is reheated while still in the container. NEVER heat Styrofoam: always remove food to a cooking vessel for reheating.
On the Environment
Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and appears to last forever. It’s resistant to photolysis, or the breaking down of materials by photons originating from light. This, combined with the fact that Styrofoam floats, means that large amounts of polystyrene have accumulated along coastlines and waterways around the world. It is considered a main component of marine debris.
Styrofoam can be recycled, but the market for recycled Styrofoam is diminishing. Many recycling say no to styro foamcompanies no longer will accept polystyrene products. Those that are recycled can be remanufactured into things like cafeteria trays or packing filler.
Along with the health risks associated with the manufacture of polystyrene, air pollution is another concern. The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research has found 57 chemical byproducts released during the creation of Styrofoam. This not only pollutes the air, but also results in liquid and solid toxic waste that requires proper disposal. Another cause for concern are the brominated flame retardants that are used on Styrofoam products. Research suggests that these chemicals may have negative environmental and health effects.
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