Why is Styrofoam bad for the environment?

Styrofoam is getting bad press recently and justifiably so. We have all been informed, most emphatically; by environmentalists that Styrofoam does bad things to the planet. A lot of public relations exercises have been done by manufacturers about Styrofoam recycling the efficacy of which is also suspect.

First of all Styrofoam is not foam at all. It is a synthetic material formed by extruded polystyrene and is trademarked by the manufacturer, Dow Chemical Co. Polystyrene is used for protective packaging of food and also for packing non-durables like audio and video cassettes etc. Originally this was considered a wonderful invention in 1940s and put to varied uses because of its many qualities like superior insulating and buoyancy.

However it has a lot of unfavorable qualities too, that are truly harmful to both the human health and the environment.

1. Styrofoam has toxins which leach out of these containers into the edible food that are packaged. Polystyrene actually emits harmful things like Styrene and Benzene into the air and into the food that has been packed in such containers. When the food is eaten, these toxins affect the reproductive system of the consumer. Styrene then ends up getting stored in our fat cells, where they can accumulate to dangerous levels causing nervousness, fatigue, insomnia, depression and nervousness. Benzene causes cancer in humans. Now, due to more awareness, less of these products are used for packing edibles, but they are still used. The reason is that Styrofoam is cheaper than paper cups and containers.

2. Styrofoam products are made with petroleum. Petroleum is a heavy pollutant; moreover this is a commodity that is getting scarce. This is another negative against using Styrofoam.

3. The product is not biodegrade. It seems to last eternally. The reason is that the environment does not seem to harm it. Moreover, since it is light, the wind makes it fly away, and it floats on water. Over long periods of time, a great deal of this material has accumulated in our water bodies, affecting marine life.

3. The Styrofoam that ends up in our garbage continues to live there indefinitely. Over time, animals end up eating it and it clogs their digestive systems. Since animals do get eaten by others and also by man, it directly and indirectly affects our health.

4. Styrofoam is increasingly taking up space in our landfills. The landfills will eventually be breached, and since it does not break down and get recycled by the earth, this is a dangerous situation.

5. Styrofoam manufacturing is done using hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs and more recently CFCs that contribute to global warming and deplete the ozone layer.
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