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31 Styrofoam Facts That You Should Know About (2022 Edition)

Jeanne Perrine

Feb 11, 2022

styrofoam facts

Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS), or what we commonly refer to as Styrofoam, has for a long time been the favorite material of many because of its lightweight and insulating properties, among others.

However, this seemingly harmless material causes much more harm than you imagine.

From being non-biodegradable and harming the marine environment to releasing toxic materials into hot food and beverages, EPS is a dangerous material with great potential to damage the environment and human health. In this article, 30 facts about EPS have been outlined, which we hope will make you want to quit using EPS in your daily life.

The Facts on Styrofoam

1. Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam, is a lightweight material used to make thermal insulation, packing peanuts, and food takeout ware.

Most polystyrene food containers are used once and discarded, ending up as landfill trash or as litter (Community Environmental Council, 2020).

2. Styrofoam is pervasive in the marine environment.

Like most plastics, polystyrene is lightweight and floats. When littered, it is carried from streets and storm drains out to the ocean (Clean Water Action, nd).

3. A study of beach debris at 43 sites along the Orange County coast (California, USA) found that Styrofoam was the second most abundant form of beach debris (Clean Water Action, nd).

4. Styrofoam is made from the monomer Styrene, a lab animal carcinogen, and a possible human carcinogen and neurotoxin.

Styrene can migrate from polystyrene containers into food and beverages when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods (Clean Water Action, nd).

5. Styrene residues can be found in 100% of all samples of human fat tissues (Clean Water Action, nd).

6. Styrene exposure increases the risk of leukemia and lymphoma and is a neurotoxin (Clean Water Action, nd).

7. Workers in polystyrene products manufacturing are exposed to many harmful chemicals, including Styrene, Toluene, Xylene, and Acetone (Clean Water Action, nd).

8. Styrofoam food packaging is typically not "clean" enough to be recycled (Clean Water Action, nd).

9. Styrofoam has a very low recycling rate.

According to a study done in 2004 by the California Integrated Waste Management Board, of the 377,580 tons of polystyrene produced in the state, only 0.8% is recycled. Only 0.2% (310 tons) of polystyrene food service packaging is recycled (Clean Water Action, nd).

10. The Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986 (Collier County, nd).

11. Approximately 1369 tons of Styrofoam are buried in US landfills every day.

Landfills quickly fill up, and Styrofoam is an active contributor occupying more space than other waste. By volume, Styrofoam fills up 25 to 30 percent of landfill space globally (Collier County, nd).

12. Due to the environmental impact, many cities and countries have banned the commercial use of Styrofoam.

These include California; Seattle, Washington; Manila, Philippines; Toronto, Canada; Paris, France; Portland, Oregon, and Taiwan (Collier County, nd).

13. Styrofoam is made from petroleum, which is a non-sustainable resource.

About 4% of the petroleum consumed worldwide each year is used to make plastic, and 4% is used to power plastic manufacturing processes (Kinhal, 2022).

14. Styrofoam is non-biodegradable.

It requires about 500 years to decompose, and it is resistant to photolysis or the breaking down of materials by photons originating from a light source (Kinhal, 2022).

15. New York City's Sanitation Department says it collected about 28,500 tons of expanded polystyrene in 2014.

It is estimated that approximately 90% of this amount consisted of single-use cups, trays, and containers (Hogue, 2015).

16. Styrofoam sinks to the bottom of the sea, where it pollutes the seabed.

As fishes and the additional pollutants eat toxic materials in Styrofoam are absorbed, the chemicals bioaccumulate, and people eating this seafood can be negatively impacted (Kinhal, 2022).

17. Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year (Collier County, nd).

18. 80% of Styrofoam end up in landfills, and much of the remaining 20% end up in waterways (Chandra et al, 2016).

19. The cost of recycling Styrofoam is staggering (due to its lightweight), making it a loss-making proposition for many recyclers.

The recycling cost is $3000 per ton of polystyrene (Chandra et al, 2016).

20. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used in the production of Styrofoam, result in air pollution and damage the ozone layer (Student Union, nd).

21. There are alternatives to Styrofoam, which can be used to ship fragile items safely.

These alternatives include foam products made from mushrooms and corn. They are fully compostable therefore they are not as problematic if they end up in our environment (Wallis, 2018).

22. Styrofoam sitting in landfills releases methane gases that have over 20 times the ozone-destroying potency as CO2 (Bideaux, 2016).

23. 680 pounds of greenhouse gas is emitted to produce 10,000 plastic foam cups (Collins, nd).

24. EPA states that the production of polystyrene releases 57 chemicals byproducts, many of which can cause serious health challenges (Studylib, 2022).

25. More than 14 million tons of Styrofoam are produced each year globally (Heal the planet, nd).

26. Chemical lobbies and polystyrene manufacturers are constantly trying to greenwash their products by misleading consumers about environmental practices or the environmental risks and benefits.

For example, more and more polystyrene products now proudly display the message: "An average weight paper cup generates 148% more solid waste by weight than a comparable foam cup". It is true that polystyrene is lightweight and is 95% air. Therefore, it weighs less than paper. However, 25-30% of the total space in landfills is filled by polystyrene and other petroleum-based plastic (Going Green Services, 2022).

27. Around 22 million polystyrene fish boxes are used every year to transport the UK's wild-caught and farmed fish to the restaurants we eat in and supermarkets we shop at (Fidra, 2022).

28. 99.2 million barrels of oil were consumed every day globally in 2018, and 0.01% of it went directly to produce polystyrene products.

This is equivalent to just under 10,000 barrels and has a significant climate and environmental impact (Fidra, 2022).

29. Styrofoam is often burnt to be disposed of and releases styrene gas into the air.

It also produces toxicants that can cause an impairment of the nervous system (Children's Environmental Health Network, nd).

30. Styrofoam reduction policies may have long-term economic savings from avoided litter cleanup costs.

For example, the estimated $13 per resident that West Coast cities (USA) spend on annual litter cleanups may decline as Styrofoam food container waste declines (Community Environmental Council, 2020).

31. Styrofoam has very little weight but substantial volume making it expensive to transport for recycling (City of Fayetteville Arkansas, 2019).

Conclusion

Styrofoam is a significant contributor to climate change and environmental pollution. It takes up a lot of space in landfills, and when it's incinerated, it releases harmful toxins into the air.

There are viable alternatives to Styrofoam that are compostable and don't have negative environmental impacts if you're looking for ways to reduce your impact on the planet, start by cutting out Styrofoam products from your life.

 
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Jeanne Perrine

Jeanne Perrine is a Sustainability Consultant who provides consultancy services in the strategic planning and management of sustainability programs. She holds a master’s degree in Sustainability Science. Jeanne was the first Fulbright Scholar from her home island (Rodrigues) and proudly represented the island during her time in the US. In her free time, Jeanne enjoys a good hike, listening to music, and working out.

+ Show Comments (3) - Hide Comments (3)
  • Glayol Sahba says:

    Fantastic Article, thank you! Could you please tell me what the nd stands for at the end of your references? I m using your article to help write an ordinance to ban styrofoam in Sacramento!
    Goli Sahba @gmail.com

  • Donna says:

    Great read, thank you for taking the time to collect this information.

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