TRASH TALK: What's Styrofoam?
By Jennifer Arbuckle
Styrofoam is actually the product Polystyrene, "Styrofoam" is the Dow Chemical brand name for Polystyrene. The popularity of this highly unnecessary, landfill clogging, potentially hazardous product is that it insulates well and is cheap. Polystyrene is made from Benzene, Styrene, Ethylene and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs have now been replaced with HCFCs. So what are these chemicals exactly? Benzene is extracted from coal (commonly referred to as Coal Tar) it is a clear, colorless liquid. Approximately 75% of all Benzene extracted is used to make Polystyrene. It is used to transform Styrene into Polystyrene. Benzene is highly toxic chemical. It is listed on the Hazardous Substances List as a known MUTAGEN, CARCINOGEN, and is FLAMMABLE. Short term contact will cause dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, vomiting, convulsions, coma, and death from irregular heartbeat. Long term exposure causes skin scaling, leukemia, plastic anemia, and death.
Styrene is extracted from petroleum, it is a $20 billion a year industry in the U.S., comprising over 5,000 industrial plants. Styrene is highly toxic and is present in the fatty tissue of every single one of us right now thanks to constant exposure to petroleum. It is listed on the Hazardous Substances List as a MUTAGEN, FLAMABLE AND REACTIVE. A mutagen alters one's chromosomal make-up. It is also considered a neurotoxin. Low exposure can cause: eye, nose and throat irritation. High level of exposure can cause: dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, trouble concentrating, memory problems, poor learning ability, brain damage, and death. Exposure over months and years can cause: trouble balancing, learning impairments, fetal damage, decreased fertility in females, lung cancer, and shortened lifespan.
Styrofoam can be recycled; however, most attempts don't work well. The standard method of recycling is to grind up the Styrofoam, heat it, and reform it into blocks. Unfortunately, this makes low quality Styrofoam. Further, there is no Northern California companies available to make recycling Styrofoam a reality at this time. Many companies have found the reuse of Styrofoam to be more beneficial (i.e. Cost-effective). For example, Beliar Industries of Vancouver chips clean "Styrofoam" and uses it to fill bean bag chairs.
Each year Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups, enough every year to circle the earth 436 times! Best thing to do is not buy it and use your own cup. You'll save money, keep toxic chemical away from your digestive track and help the environment.