It is finally summer fair and barbeque season. Yippee! However, I am reminded how often I see food being handed out on styrofoam plates and containers and why this is should be of concern to everyone.
I have always hated the feel of styrofoam cups on my lips so I started avoiding it years ago. I have since learned it contains some serious toxic compounds which can leach out into food. So shouldn’t we all be avoiding it? The challenge is that it is still so widely used. As it’s likely you too will run into it this season, best to know WHY and HOW to avoid styrofoam.
What is styrofoam??
- Styrofoam is a trademarked name for an extruded foam made from polystyrene
- Polystyrene is a synthetic compound derived from petroleum, and contains toxic compounds such as benzene. It is a lightweight, insulating material that is used in many formats in industry…unfortunately including disposable dish ware.
Studies have shown that the styrene leaches out of the styrofoam and into our bodies when we use styrofoam cups and plates. In fact, a study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found just that when the food (or drink) inside was hot. If it makes you feel any better, it was also found that styrene didn’t leach out of foam egg cartons, which are usually refrigerated. so we can assume the most harm to human health comes when the styrofoam is heated.
However the direct impact on human health shouldn’t be our only concern. Styrofoam has become an acute environmental issue. The Environmental Protection Agency released a report (1986) listing the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. Fifty-seven toxic chemical byproducts are released during the manufacturing process of polystyrene, including benzene. Just think of the workers who manufacture it if nothing else.
As well, styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. It makes up 25-30% of our world’s landfills AND has become a major source of marine pollution. And even though styrofoam is no longer manufactured with CFC (‘chlorofluorocarbon’ the famous ozone depleting chemical), it still uses hydrofluorocarbons linked to depleting the ozone layer and affecting global warming.
How to Avoid Styrofoam:
- Look for the number 6. Polystyrene foam should be easy to spot by looking for a 6 inside the chasing arrow (aka ‘the mobius loop) symbol. Unfortunately, polystyrene is also used in non-foam food containers, including clear-plastic clamshells and coffee-cup lids.
- Don’t frequent restaurants or take out places that offer this type of food container.
- BE PREPARED and take your own environmentally-friendly food and drink containers where you can to picnics, BBQs and fairs.
And remember that even though many jurisdictions are now trying to recycle styrofoam.. it is not a good option to use in the first place. So many chemicals used in its production affecting workers and our environment. We can all do better for the sake of our health, other people, AND our environment. So get yourself some stainless or glass re-usable containers and bamboo plates.
This post was inspired by the work of SaferChemicalsHealthyFamilies who work tirelessly to inform people of hidden toxins in their consumer goods….for which we should all be thankful 🙂