Styrofoam. A material that is so widely used in our day to day lives. From food packaging to house insulation, Styrofoam is everywhere. Invented in 1941, or, rather rediscovered in 1941 by Dow, a company, from a Swedish Carl Munter’s rightful invention, Styrofoam became immediately popular for its use in boats, in docks, and as insulation for homes, offices and chicken sheds. Contrary to popular belief, Styrofoam has never been used to make cups, packing peanuts and containers. No one really knows why exactly they’re called « Styrofoam cups » or « Styrofoam food containers » when they’re in fact made of a different material; polystyrene. Polystyrene is in fact beads of resin that are heated, and pressed together, and was invented in the 1950s. This material is in fact a lot lighter and cheaper than the real Styrofoam, and has been used for it’s lightweight, and sterile properties.
Now that we’ve established that this blog is not in fact about Styrofoam, but about Polystyrene, we can finally talk about how this product is part of the linear economy. We’ve been told over and over again throughout the years that “Styrofoam cups and containers” are in fact recyclable… right? The answer is in fact yes… but no. You see, polystyrene itself is recyclable. However, polystyrene has tendencies to get dirty very easily, and just like cardboard, cannot be recycled if there is organic matter on it. In Canada, about 80% of polystyrene in the recycling bins end up in landfills, where they’ll take an estimated 500 years to FOREVER to biodegrade.
Polystyrene is not only a more then likely permanent product by humans however, since the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC for short, have stated that styrene, a very popular plastic used in polystyrene, as a possible cause for cancer to humans. On top of that, as if causing cancer wasn’t bad enough, polystyrene is typically contaminated with flame-retardant chemicals that can seep into the environment and have negative effects on human health.
So, now that we have established that polystyrene is more than likely to find itself in landfills, is very bad for human health and for the environment, what are the solutions? There are many alternate products that can replace polystyrene, like reusable cups, glass food containers and even foam products made from mushrooms and corn. Biodegradable products are also appearing on markets and trying to replace and show a solution to the horrors of polystyrene, such as Vio, a biodegradable foam cup. It’s a no-brainer that polystyrene is an environmental horror. This form of linear economy must be put to an end, and we are the ones who will accomplish that. We can fight against polystyrene in our daily lives, whether it’s by using reusable containers and cups that we’ll use long term, or by using biodegradable and eco friendly alternatives such as Vio.
- “Non-Recyclable Items.” UW, www.uwlax.edu/recycling/what-to-recycle/non-recyclable-items/.
- Clay Cansler is managing editor of Distillations. “Styrofoam, a Practical and Problematic Creation.” Science History Institute, 19 Apr. 2019, www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/styrofoam-a-practical-and-problematic-creation#:~:text=Dow%20invented%20Styrofoam%20in%201941,by%20Swedish%20inventor%20Carl%20Munters.
- “Styrofoam Is Polluting Our Environment. Let’s #BanTheFoam.” Environmental Defence, 22 Oct. 2018, environmentaldefence.ca/2018/10/19/banthefoam/#:~:text=Styrene%20is%20the%20building%20block,%E2%80%9Cprobable%20carcinogen%20to%20humans%E2%80%9D.&text=And%20if%20that%20wasn’t,environment%20and%20harm%20human%20health.
- “What’s in Vio® For You?” Vio®, viofoam.com/.