For decades Styrofoam has been one of the most commonly used plastics because it is lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. However, businesses and consumers are becoming more aware of the negative impacts it has on the environment and wondering how they can help mitigate the problem. If your business generates Styrofoam waste, don't worry, there's a lot of things you can do to reduce or eliminate it! To help you get started, this post covers everything you need to know about Styrofoam and the negative environmental impacts associated with it, as well as tips for reducing or eliminating it at your business. Continue reading to learn more!
What Is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam, identified by the plastic #6 symbol, is a trademarked brand name for expanded polystyrene (EPS), a plastic material frequently used to create a variety of consumer products. Styrofoam is a preferred material in the packaging and food industries because it is lightweight (95% air!), has insulation properties that keep food and drinks hot or cold, and is durable enough to protect items during shipping. In practice, Styrofoam is most often used for coffee cups, home insulation, packing materials, carry-out cartons, and egg cartons. Although Styrofoam is known to be cost-effective, it is very difficult and costly to recycle. Most recycling facilities are unable to process EPS because, unlike other plastics, it is bulky and often contaminated. Its brittle form means it easily breaks into tiny pieces and disperses, an additional complexity for recyclers.
The Environmental Impacts
Every year, the world produces more than 14 million tons of polystyrene. Because recycling the material is not possible in most cases, many generators place Styrofoam in the trash, which results in large amounts ending up in landfills and the environment. The EPA estimates that in 2017, the United States generated 90,000 tons of Styrofoam containers, and less than 5,000 tons were recycled. Given that Styrofoam does not biodegrade, it will stay in the environment for thousands of years. Further, the lightweight material is easily carried into waterways and oceans through the wind. Indeed, polystyrene contributes to a large portion of the Pacific garbage patch, a patch of garbage twice the size of Texas floating around in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Styrofoam bans in the u.s.
Environmental groups have advocated for Styrofoam bans since the 1980s. Berkeley was the first city to ban Styrofoam in 1988. Fast forward to today, several cities, counties, and states have banned plastic foam products. Below are some of the places in the United States with Styrofoam bans:
- In 2017, San Francisco passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of all polystyrene products. This includes everything from coolers, to food packaging, to pool toys. In place of Styrofoam, the city encourages businesses to use eco-friendly packaging materials that have less of a negative impact on the environment.
- Maine became the first state to ban Styrofoam in 2019. The law will go into effect in January 2021 and prohibits restaurants, caterers, coffee shops, and grocery stores from using to-go foam containers.
- New York State banned the distribution of polystyrene food containers used for food and beverages served by restaurants, caterers, food trucks, retail stores, delis, and grocery stores. The ban also prohibits the sale of packing peanuts. This ban is due to go into effect in 2022.
How To Reduce Styrofoam In Your Business
Refuse Styrofoam whenever possible
The most effective way to reduce Styrofoam is by refusing it altogether. Talk to your procurement team about refusing to buy foam products. A great place to start is in your business' kitchen or break room. Replace all of the Styrofoam cups, plates, bowls, and to-go containers with products manufactured from recycled products, packaging containing biodegradable or compostable products, and those that your community can easily recycle. You can start small and keep adding to the list until your workplace becomes entirely Styrofoam free!
WORK WITH ECO-FRIENDLY SUPPLIERS
Work with manufacturers who use eco-friendly packaging instead of Styrofoam. You may discover a particular supplier is better-aligned with your business' sustainability goals. Or perhaps you can encourage your current suppliers to use less Styrofoam packaging. Making smarter purchasing decisions and setting standards early in the process makes it easier for organizations to refuse Styrofoam from the get go.
Reuse or donate packing peanuts
If you do receive packing peanuts, you can reuse them for when you send your own packages. Some packing and shipping companies, like UPS, will also accept donations of clean packing peanuts. Call your local shipping company to see if they will accept them. If they will not take them, they can usually point you in the right direction of a company that will!
Polystyrene recycling solutions
If you can't use any of the options above, don't place the Styrofoam in the garbage. While recycling is limited for expanded polystyrene, there are recycling markets for it. Earth911 Recycling Search can help you find Styrofoam recycling in your area.
Now that you know the negative impacts of Styrofoam, are you ready to start eliminating it at your business? Let us know how it goes, or share some of your favorite tips for reducing Styrofoam in the comments below. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us here. We're always happy to help. Thanks for reading!