What would you do if you realized that by drinking from a Styrofoam cup, you are contributing to the demise of the environment and endangering wildlife and humans alike? Most people do not consider the effects that Styrofoam, or polystyrene, can have because of its widespread availability. Not using Styrofoam products, however, would improve the health of the world. Restaurants in particular should use something else for plates, cups and take-out packaging since it is actually dangerous.
One reason restaurants should stop using Styrofoam is that it is not the most economical or health-conscious option. Paper could be used instead and is usually less expensive. It is also biodegradable, making it more environmentally friendly.
Styrofoam contains chemicals that over time and continuous exposure (even in small amounts) can build up in the body and cause many health issues. One U.S. EPA study of human fat biopsies found styrene residues in every single sample. Styrene is easily transferred from a container to your food or beverage. And the hotter or fattier the food, the more styrene it absorbs. This includes not only your doggie bag contents but meat on foam trays at grocery stores. It can disrupt hormone functions and cause low platelet counts, chromosome and lymphatic abnormalities, and create neurotoxic effects, which can lead to fatigue, insomnia and other diseases associated with the nervous system. It is even more dangerous for pregnant women because of the effects on the unborn.
Styrofoam is also not very sturdy. It easily breaks into small pieces that small children can choke on. Paper cups are a much better choice.
Styrofoam products are not biodegradable and contribute to landfill pile-ups because it never deteriorates. It also adds to the problem of where to put excess waste products. Waste may eventually have to be dumped into the ocean, which could contaminate the water.
Styrofoam also prevents more efficient recycling and better use of resources because it can only be thrown away (though many items could be reused) and must be produced continuously to meet demands, which uses nonrenewable energy and costs more. Paper can be recycled and is biode-gradable.
A third reason restaurants should use paper is that Styrofoam can be dangerous to wildlife. Animals can wander
into a landfill and try to eat it, which could result in them choking or becoming sick, thus reducing their populations. Animals can also be affected if more space is needed for landfills and their habitats need to be destroyed which could force them into residential areas. This is especially dangerous for humans, who can get diseases carried by the animals (including Lyme disease) and have car accidents because of animals running into the road.
Although there are many substantial reasons why restaurants should use paper products instead of Styrofoam, some still believe it is the best option. It does protect hands from the extreme heat or cold, but to compensate for lack of insulation in paper, cardboard protectors can be used. Styrofoam may at first seem like a better option, but paper is actually a much smarter choice.
Restaurants, if they must use disposable items, should consider changing from Styrofoam to paper. Styrofoam is damaging to the environment, wildlife, and the health of humans. The fact that it is not biodegradable and has harmful chemicals should convince people of its hazards. Paper is both biodegradable and safer for the environment, wildlife, and humans, and would be much better than Styrofoam.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.