Styrofoam has been with us for 67 years and it’ll probably be here well after humans have been driven from the planet.
Styrofoam, developed by Dow Chemical in 1941, is a scourge. I realized that not after my employer rightfully banned Styrofoam coffee cups a couple of years ago, but after I picked trash this weekend at 60 acres of conservation property near my home. The tick-infested area is bordered by a big bend in the Merrimack River and it catches all manner of trash coming down stream, almost all of it plastic - bottles, bottle caps, recycling bins from towns upstream, tampons, needles, condoms, pens, wrappers, combs, balls, toys, and many types of plastic twist-off seals. There was very little metal, save a transmission or two.
But the bits of Styrofoam mostly from fast-food packaging is what made the clean-up seem hopeless. You could work on a three-square feet for 30 minutes and not get it all. This stuff is like an low-grade infection in the environment. Now I have even a greater appreciation for sustainable and recycleable plastic.
Styrofoam is used in a variety of applications: coffee cups, packaging, boat floatation, insulation and boogie boards. Indeed as boat floatation, it has saved lives. It definitely has great characteristics such as buoyancy, but my vote goes to Starbucks which uses cardboard coffee cups instead of Styrofoam like Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s quite a bit of talk about recycling Styrofoam, but it’s difficult. Californians Against Waste has a very detailed web site on the harm polystyrene (Styrofoam is a derivative) poses to the environment and human health. The Styrene compound, they claim, is found in fat, blood and even breastmilk! Polystyrene, the polymerization of styrene, was discovered by a German pharmacist in 1839.
If Styrofoam saves sailors and keeps people warm, that’s great. We should use it. But fast food packaging is needless and harmful. Somes uses of Styrofoam should be restricted if not banned outright.