Polystyrene – what is it? (And why is it harmful?)

Polystyrene, a plastic better known as Styrofoam, a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company, is composed of Benzene and Styrene. Both chemicals are known carcinogens according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They can cause a variety of mutations to the nervous system states earthresource.org, and have been linked to both Parkinson’s and leukemia.

The Earth Resource Foundation in its Polystyrene Foam Report says producing polystyrene is energy intensive, and creates large amounts of greenhouse gases. It is ranked second-worst in environmental production costs in the U.S. by the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Commonly used in food packaging, polystyrene insulates better and keeps food fresher. It is also cost effective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strictly regulate food packaging to insure its safety. Polystyrene, both as a solid clear plastic and as foam, packages everything in the form of clamshells for salads and fruits, to egg cartons, peanuts for packaging, solid Styrofoam around computers. The list goes on and on.

So what’s the harm? An article in the Los Angeles Times on May 29, 2017 states, “There’s a big lie about plastic – that you can throw it away. But that’s not true; there is no ‘away.’” Polystyrene takes at least 500 years to decompose per Polystyrene Fast Facts on the way-to-go.org website, which also states that 23 percent to 30 percent of our landfills are dedicated to Styrofoam and plastics. Styrofoam doesn’t get recycled because of the difficulty in transporting and cleaning it. All of that packaging makes up 85 percent of our waste stream.

Our environment is overwhelmed with all this plastic, including Styrofoam. Eight million tons of it end up in the world’s oceans every year. From our neighborhoods here it finds its way to the Pacific. There it breaks into micro-particles; fish and plankton eat it, and it ends up in our food chain. Those white Styrofoam containers restaurants give you to take your leftovers home could end up back in what you eat years later. Ugh! It has carcinogenic effects. It could give you headaches, depression, and affect your memory and reaction time. The LA Times article ends, “In the two minutes it took you to read this article, more than 60,000 pounds of plastic were dumped into our oceans – a fair share of it from California.”

So what can we do? Here are some suggestions from epa.gov/trash-free-waters/epa-reports.

▪ Bring your own cup to reduce the 500 paper or Styrofoam cups you use every year when buying coffee or tea. Some shops offer a discount when you do!

▪ Carry a reusable water bottle. Americans buy enough bottled water every week to circle the globe five times. Plus bottled water costs 2000 times more than tap water, is less safe to drink, and may not taste as good.

▪ Buy fresh produce rather than heavily packaged items. Bring your own mesh bags to put it in. Buy items in bulk rather than individually packaged.

▪ When you go to a restaurant bring your own “doggie bag” container, and skip the plastic silverware. Bring your own, or wait until you get home to eat.

▪ Tell your friends and family what you are doing to help the environment. Encourage them to do the same. Start a letter writing campaign to companies you buy products from to reduce their packaging. Be an advocate for alternatives to polystyrene when you are in a store or restaurant. And thank those businesses who use containers that can be recycled.

KOMB in the community

Keep Our Mountains Beautiful (KOMB) picks up litter throughout Eastern Madera County. Its next meeting is Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m. at Round Table Pizza in Oakhurst. Everyone is welcome.

Details: Contact komb4emc@gmail.com or Sandee Scott at 559-760-1058.