Styrofoam has become an integral part of our lives. We use it for takeout containers, coffee cups, plates, bowls, and it is even used for building insulation!
What you may not realize is that styrofoam is one of the biggest public health risks, and poses a massive threat to the environment and our planet.
Throughout the world, styrofoam fills up more than 30 percent of landfills. That’s across the whole world!
It is also one of the most commonly littered waste products, and it cannot be recycled, so it ends up in landfills, littering the planet for hundreds of years.
But this product is not just a pollutant. Styrofoam is actually a threat to humans and animals, and can be toxic when ingested.
So, this is something that we really do not want hanging around in our neighborhood, or being littered and left for nature to consume.
What exactly is styrofoam?
Styrofoam is an expanded type of polystyrene foam that can be used for coffee cups and food containers as it is insulating, and cheap to manufacture and purchase.
Whilst it can be useful for packing up food, and as a protective layer for fragile items, styrofoam is not sustainable at all.
It is estimated that we only have a few years left to reverse the damage humans have caused to planet Earth, and time is quickly running out.
We have to make changes in order to ensure that our planet survives for the years to come.
Did you know that styrofoam takes over 500 years to decompose, and in doing so it leaks harmful chemicals into the air and the environment around it.
Therefore, it is clear that styrofoam is not sustainable or safe for the environment, and something needs to change.
Why styrofoam is bad for the environment
Well, styrofoam is largely bad for the environment because of how long it takes to decompose and break down. This means that it has a lasting impact on the environment, and the planet.
As it takes over 500 years to break down, styrofoam is not considered biodegradable.
Biodegradable products are capable of being decomposed by living organisms or bacteria in the world, which means that it breaks down fairly quickly and thus avoids polluting the earth.
But there are many other reasons why styrofoam is bad for the environment.
Styrofoam fill up landfills
Styrofoam is also bad for the environment because it fills up landfills, and basically never breaks down. Styrofoam fills up 30% of the landfills around the world.
When you consider all of the things that humans throw away, or do not recycle, this is a huge and worrying statistic.
Landfills around the world are already bursting and full to the brim, and many already have products and objects that cannot be recycled or are not biodegradable.
Yet, styrofoam alone takes up a staggering 30% of this space!
In the US, it is estimated that about 1,369 tons of styrofoam is buried in landfills every single day.
With this product being so rife in landfills, it needs to have an element of being biodegradable if we are going to sustain this.
But, it’s not just about the space it takes up. Styrofoam has many harmful effects on nature, the environment and animals.
It is for these reasons that so many states, cities and countries have chosen to ban the commercial use of Styrofoam, and prevent this product being used as much as possible.
For instance, the state of California, along with places like Washington, Seattle, Canada, France, Taiwan, Toronto and many more do not allow styrofoam to be used commercially to help reduce the risk this poses for the environment.
Styrofoam pollutes the earth
Styrofoam is a pollutant. It contains something called styrene, which can leak into the foods and drinks served within Styrofoam containers, contaminating them as styrene can be toxic.
Styrene is also considered to be a human carcinogen, and may increase the risk of developing some cancers.
Not only is it toxic to ingest, but it is also toxic to the earth. Styrofoam has been known to produce harmful pollutants when exposed to sunlight, which can start to deplete the ozone layer.
As it is mainly used for disposable cups and containers, most of the world’s styrofoam ends up in bins and landfills, contributing to environmental pollution.
Styrofoam impacts nature
It is also an extremely harmful waste product that can harm animals scavenging for food.
The pieces of styrofoam can break off easily, causing choking hazards and sometimes even poisoning small animals when ingested.
As it does not degrade naturally, and can take so long to decompose, styrofoam is not considered biodegradable.
This means that it can take anywhere from hundreds of years up to a million years to decompose completely.
This is largely due to the fact that it resists water, repelling acids, salts and other corrosive substances that would damage the integrity of the styrofoam, making it essentially last forever.
Therefore, it just sits in a landfill for years.
What are the risks of styrofoam?
Styrofoam can also contaminate the air, water and environment around it during manufacturing. This is because it releases up to fifty chemical byproducts that can be harmful and carcinogenic.
In addition to this, styrene reacts with nitrogen oxides in the air, which creates ground-level ozone, which is an air pollutant that can impact lung functions, and lead to respiratory illnesses.
Being made up of styrene, this substance can be toxic, whilst also irritating the eyes, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tracts and the skin.
Exposure to this substance can therefore lead to many health problems including headaches, weakness, hearing loss, depression and repressed kidney function.
Are there alternatives to using styrofoam?
So, what is the answer? It is clear that this product is not a sustainable solution to our needs, and is more damaging to the planet than it is useful.
So, what are the alternatives? Nowadays, environmentally friendly substances can mimic styrofoam, and be used as a replacement.
You can also use compostable containers such as, and recyclable containers for foods and drinks, so that these items do not end up in landfills for generations.
If more and more restaurants made a conscious effort to reduce their use of single use plastics and styrofoam, and eliminated them altogether, then we can sustain the earth for much longer.
More countries and locations should also ban the use of single use items in order to create a more sustainable living environment and ensure the earth is around for a long time.