January 16

Why Is Styrofoam The Enemy Of Sustainability?


Have you ever stopped to consider the amount of Styrofoam that finds its way into our daily lives? From our morning coffee cups to takeout containers, this ubiquitous material is everywhere. 


So what makes styrofoam the enemy of sustainability?


Not only does it have a devastating effect on the environment, but it also makes up a huge percentage of all waste produced in the United States. With states from Maine to New Jersey taking action by banning Styrofoam food containers and coffee cups, now is the time to start thinking about how we can reduce our dependence on this unsustainable material.


What is Styrofoam?

Expanded Polystyrene foam (commonly known as the Brand Styrofoam) is a lightweight, versatile and inexpensive material made from polystyrene beads, which are derived from petroleum. 

This unique material has a wide array of applications in packaging, construction, and insulation due to its incredible ability to block out cold air and be molded into practically any shape imaginable.

Polystyrene foam, or EPS, is the official name for the brand; Styrofoam. It is most commonly used as a packaging material, often found around electronic household appliances. 

Its lightweight nature and low cost make it an ideal choice for companies who need to ship products safely yet economically. The thermal properties of the foam also mean that it keeps products at the desired temperature during transit.


Uses of Styrofoam

One of the main benefits of Styrofoam is its lightweight and low cost. It’s nearly 95% air! Because of this, Styrofoam can be molded into almost any shape imaginable, making it perfect for creating intricate designs and complex shapes. Additionally, because Styrofoam is an insulator, it does an amazing job at blocking out cold air- perfect for keeping items cold during shipping or for keeping food hot during transportation. 

Styrofoam is an incredibly useful material that offers a great number of benefits in multiple industries. It’s lightweight yet versatile enough to mold into almost any shape, making it perfect for packaging products safely yet economically. 

EPS can also be used in construction and insulation projects as well as for temporary structures such as event tents and advertising boards. As an insulator, EPS provides superior energy efficiency compared to other building materials such as fiberglass or cellulose-based insulation thanks to its exceptional ability to seal off any leaks or drafts in walls or ceilings. 

This makes it an attractive option for those looking to reduce their energy bills while still getting excellent insulation properties from their investment.

The benefits of EPS foam make it easy to see why many companies choose to use Styrofoam when shipping items–from electronics to furniture to food products—across long distances safely and efficiently. 


What is The impact of Styrofoam on the Environment?

The impact of Styrofoam on the environment is significant and far-reaching. Every year, millions of tons of Styrofoam containers, takeout containers, egg cartons, and packaging are disposed of in landfills. This amount is steadily increasing as more and more products use Styrofoam as a packaging material due to its lightweight properties. 

Styrofoam takes a very long time to biodegrade – up to 500 years – making it an important contributor to continued landfill growth even though it comprises only a small fraction of the solid waste stream. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2018 Americans generated about 80,000 tons of Styrofoam containers with less than 5,000 tons being recycled. Most of these products end up in landfills where they can remain for hundreds or even thousands of years. 

Even when placed in recycling bins, many municipalities lack the resources to recycle this material because it requires specialized techniques to break down these materials into their constituent parts which can then be reused. 

Additionally, while manufacturing Styrofoam 50 potentially hazardous chemical byproducts are released into the atmosphere, harming both local populations and the environment at large. In addition to contributing to waste accumulation and disposal problems, Styrofoam also has several negative environmental impacts associated with its production and use.

Moreover, when burned, Styrofoam releases toxic chemicals such as benzene and carbon monoxide into the air that can have major impacts on human health. Studies have linked these chemicals to respiratory illnesses and other diseases. 

The air pollution from burning Styrofoam is also responsible for contributing to global warming and climate change through increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. 

Finally, because it is not disposed of properly many times, Styrofoam has been known to travel with wind currents or water flows and end up in waterways or bodies of water around the world.

There it may be ingested by marine life or wildlife who mistake them for food resulting in harm or even death due to choking or digestive blockages caused by indigestible materials like Styrofoam. 

It is clear that the environmental effects caused by Styrofoam products are serious and should not be taken lightly. We as a society all must work together in reducing our reliance on this dangerous material by replacing it with greener alternatives whenever possible so that future generations will not suffer from its hazardous impacts on our planet’s fragile environment.


Is Styrofoam Compostable or Biodegradable?

Styrofoam is neither compostable nor biodegradable, which can be a conundrum for those looking to reduce their environmental impact. The fact that it requires a facility to recycle, and the fact that it releases harmful chemicals along the way, make styrofoam an unsustainable choice of material. 

The main problem with Styrofoam is its composition; it is composed of polystyrene, a type of plastic that does not break down in the environment as other materials do. Even when exposed to sunlight and air for long periods, polystyrene does not decompose. 

Instead, it breaks into smaller pieces or goes from a solid form to dust but never fully decomposes. This means that Styrofoam accumulates in landfills or gets washed out into streams and oceans where it can have devastating effects on ecosystems and aquatic life. 

It’s also important to note that even if Styrofoam were biodegradable or compostable, facilities would still need to be set up with additional resources such as energy and water needed to process the material properly. This further complicates matters when trying to find an effective way of disposing of Styrofoam responsibly.


Is Styrofoam Recyclable?

When it comes to the question of “is Styrofoam recyclable?”, the answer can be a bit complicated. Technically, yes, Styrofoam products are considered to be recyclable due to their chemical makeup. However, most regions don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to recycle Styrofoam items effectively. 

This means that while they may have the recycling chasing arrows and number 6 on them, in most places they will still end up in the landfill at the end of the day. What’s worse is that throwing Styrofoam into the recycling stream can contaminate other materials in the bin.

Recycling Styrofoam poses a unique challenge because it is not considered bio-degradable — meaning it won’t break down naturally over time like paper or cardboard. It is also resistant to water and heat, which makes breaking it down via traditional methods difficult and costly.

As a result, most local governments do not accept foam containers for curbside recycling pickup or drop-offs at local recycling centers, and disposing of them properly can be complicated due to the unique challenges when breaking them down via traditional methods and certain chemicals used during manufacturing making some foam items even more challenging to recycle.


Why is it Hard to Recycle Styrofoam Safely?

The main problem with Styrofoam is that it can’t be safely recycled like other materials – instead, it needs to be processed through a facility to break down the chemical bonds of the molecules and create something else out of the material. 

This process requires a lot of energy and resources, making it difficult to economically manage. In addition, some of the chemicals released during the process may be hazardous to both humans and aquatic life near where it was recycled. 

Because of its difficult nature to recycle properly, many facilities will not accept Styrofoam for disposal, leaving communities without options for proper waste management. Some governments have banned Styrofoam products altogether due to their environmental impact and difficulty in disposing of them correctly. 

In summary, Styrofoam is neither compostable nor biodegradable since it requires a facility to recycle it and releases harmful chemicals along the way. Therefore, we should switch away from using products made with polystyrene as much as possible in favor of more sustainable alternatives like paper or cardboard-based packaging instead.


How to Play Your Part in Recycling Styrofoam

As people become more aware of how detrimental non-biodegradable materials are to the environment, Styrofoam recycling has become a crucial issue. The good news is that there are multiple methods available for recycling Styrofoam responsibly.


Search for Specialized Recycling Facilities

The first step to recycling Styrofoam is finding out if your local recycling facility accepts it. You can do this by searching the EPA Recycling Map or Earth911 for nearby centers that accept polystyrene foam and packing peanuts. 

Curbside collection programs in some municipalities may also collect Styrofoam; however, you should always make sure that items are clean and free from food waste to avoid contaminating the recycling stream. 

If your local recycling facility does not accept foam materials, you could check with local businesses in your area as they may have drop-off centers that allow people to recycle their packing peanuts for free or for a small fee. Also, contact manufacturers who use large amounts of polystyrene foam as they may take back the material for reuse or repurpose it themselves. 


Choose Curbside Recycling Programs

Another way to recycle Styrofoam is through curbside collection programs. Some municipalities offer curbside collection services for foam packaging, including foam peanuts, so you can simply place them in a designated recycling bin for collection by your municipality’s waste management team. It is important to make sure all items placed in the bin are clean and free from food waste to avoid contaminating the recycling stream.


Opt for Material Recovery Facilities

Many cities have material recovery facilities (MRF) that accept Styrofoam for sorting and processing into new products or feedstock for energy recovery processes, depending on the quality and condition of the material received. 

If you are unsure whether or not your local MRF accepts Styrofoam, contact them directly before attempting to recycle any packing peanuts or other foam items at their facility.


Eco-friendly Alternatives to Styrofoam

Switching from single-use plastic products like styrofoam packaging to sustainable alternatives such as reusable containers can provide numerous benefits across all aspects – ecological sustainability, cost savings over time, reduce pollution 


Edible Packing Peanuts

Using edible packing peanuts instead of Styrofoam peanuts has many potential benefits. Edible packaging materials are becoming increasingly popular due to the potential they have to reduce waste and the negative environmental impacts associated with traditional packaging. 

Compared to Styrofoam, which is a non-biodegradable material typically made from petroleum, edible packaging materials can be composted or even eaten.


Biodegradable Packing

Unlike styrofoam packaging, which is composed of non-biodegradable plastic that never fully breaks down, biodegradable packing materials are made with a special type of plastic that can break down in just 5 years. This could drastically reduce harmful plastic waste that accumulates over time and seeps into the environment.  


Edible Cups and Plates

Edible cups and plates are an increasingly viable option for eco-conscious consumers who want to reduce their waste output. These products are vegan-friendly and made from plant gelatin—the gelatin serves as a binding that allows the edible material to be shaped into cups or plates. While still a relatively new product, edible cups are becoming more widely available in stores and online outlets. 

Additionally, these plant-based products can come in flavors that complement beverages and food. This means that customers can enjoy the culinary experience without having to worry about disposing of foam or plastic containers. Furthermore, edible cups and plates are also much more eco-friendly since they either decompose in landfills or become part of the consumer’s diet!


Reusable Containers

Using reusable containers for events and picnics is a great way to reduce the amount of Styrofoam packaging that ends up in landfills. Styrofoam is a type of plastic foam packaging that takes an incredibly long time to decompose, meaning it can hang around in our environment for years. 

Reusable containers are not only more eco-friendly but they also look better and add flair to any event or picnic. They are also much sturdier than styrofoam packaging, which means they will keep your food secure and fresh until you’re ready to eat it. 


Commercial Benefits of Switching to Eco-friendly Alternatives

Transitioning to biodegradable packaging materials instead of Styrofoam is a cost-effective way for companies to reduce their environmental footprint. Companies can buy the raw materials needed for their packaging at lower costs than Styrofoam, and the end product will be biodegradable without causing lasting harm to the environment. 

Not only is this better for the planet, but it also saves money in the long run since companies no longer have to pay for costly disposal fees associated with Styrofoam packaging. 

In addition to being more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than Styrofoam packaging, using biodegradable packing materials also comes with several other benefits. 

For starters, it can help boost a company’s brand image as customers are increasingly looking to purchase sustainable products from brands they trust. Additionally, biodegradable packaging can help improve product safety by reducing the chance of contamination due to its ability to break down quickly when exposed to moisture or heat. 


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