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Avoiding styrofoam isn’t just good practice, it’s strongly recommended, especially if you want to reduce your waste. Styrofoam is being banned all around the world because of its toxicity and inability to ever degrade.
If you use styrofoam products often, keep reading for important reasons why you should stop. I suggest going with other alternatives if you do use it frequently, and I’ll mention a few at the end of this post.
How Styrofoam Pollutes
Styrofoam is made of styrene, a petroleum-based product. The EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have both classified styrene as a possible human carcinogen. During the production of styrene, workers that are regularly exposed to it have reported serious health effects. These include irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, as well as gastrointestinal effects.
While these are already very critical health issues, overexposure can have even more severe effects, like depression, headaches, fatigue, weakness, hearing loss, and disrupted kidney function.
Not only does styrene itself cause health risks, but also the pollution, such as nitric oxide, released as a consequence of making it. Nitric oxide is formed when nitrogen is emitted during fuel combustion and mixes with oxygen atoms. When styrene reacts with nitric oxide, it creates a dangerous air pollutant called ground-level ozone.
Ground-level ozone differs from the stratospheric ozone in that it is human-made and formed by hazardous air pollutants. The stratospheric ozone is natural and meant to protect the earth from the harsh rays of the sun.
The ground-level ozone can pose serious health risks including impaired lung function and nervous system. The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research found that during styrofoam’s making, 57 toxic chemical by-products are released.
In addition to the release of these chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) are also used during the production of this product. HFCs are greenhouse gases that negatively contribute to climate change and affect the ozone layer.
The health risks don’t stop with the manufacturing process, however.
The Never Ending Cycle of Toxicity From Styrofoam
Styrofoam continues to leach chemicals as it is used. Styrofoam is found in many things but is most commonly used as packing peanuts and in restaurants for take-out.
Using styrofoam for food can be very dangerous to human health. The chemicals contained in styrofoam may leach into the food and contaminate it, harming the reproductive system.
Not only does styrofoam pose serious health risks to humans, but also animals and the planet. Styrofoam is made of polystyrene, which degrades so slowly that it isn’t considered a biodegradable material at all. The majority of polystyrene that enters landfills could take anywhere from 500 to 1 million years to degrade. Because of its inability to break down, it pollutes land and oceans and is considered a major part of marine debris.
Styrofoam usually breaks down into smaller pieces, which animals tend to mistake for food, inevitably causing them harm.
Different Alternatives to Styrofoam
Thankfully, we aren’t stuck with solely relying on styrofoam for many things. Scientists are working on making a sustainable replacement for styrofoam. Other sustainable initiatives include a new line of products made from fungi and agricultural waste that mimicks styrofoam made by a company called Ecovative Design.
You can also make a difference individually! Notice what you’re buying and what it’s packaged in. Look for products that are reusable, easily recyclable, manufactured from renewable resources, and are biodegradable.
Avoid single-use items and invest in reusable products instead! You’ll save money and resources this way. Plus, some coffee shops offer discounts for bringing in your reusable mug.
I hope this helped and that you learned some things today! If you’re looking for an easy way to reduce your everyday waste, sign up to my FREE Journey to Sustainability Challenge below.