The foam poison…

21 Feb

February 4th-21st?  Sorry for the hiatus folks!  February has been a full month for us –  Which means we have some catching up to do in our month’s focus on disposables…

First here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

1 – what is my garbage can full of?
2 – how can I decrease the amount of things that I trash?

This may be a little out of your comfort zone, but to answer the first question – we encourage you to actually go look.  You might be surprised at how much of your trash is compostable or avoidable.

In Canada and the U.S. we have become accustomed to a throw-away lifestyle.  Without having to think twice, we can buy, toss and buy again and neglect t0 notice our landfills grow.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, or a total of 29 pounds (13 kg) per week and 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year. This only takes into consideration the average household member and does not count industrial waste or commercial trash.

Check out Buy! Consume! Get rid of it! for a visual exhibition put together by a Russian artist – an interpretation of the throw-away lifestyle.

But surely we can do better!  After all, David Suzuki’s family of 4 only produces one bag of garbage per month!  A large percentage of household garbage is usually organic waste which could be composted and transformed into nutrient rich soil.  We looked at composting back in June.  Check back in the blog archives or head to compost guide for helpful tips on indoor or outdoor composting.

Other major items in household garbage are often made up of paper, plastics and styrofoam.  Today we wanted to tell you a little  more about Styrofoam – and the many reasons to avoid it.

‘Styrofoam’ is actually just the trade name we use for Polystyrene (petroleum-based plastic) a light-weight material, about 95% air, with very good insulation properties and is used in all types of products from cups that keep your beverages hot or cold to packaging material that keep your computers safe during shipping. (earth resource) The remaining 5 percent of material consists of polystyrene, developed from the basic synthetic chemical, styrene.

All day long in our fast-paced modern world, coffee gets poured into foam cups. Double-decker mega-burgers get plopped into foam clamshells. Restaurant leftovers get put into “doggie bags”—usually foam food containers.
It is a convenient storage container, however it is only ever designed for single-use.

Each year Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 ‘Styrofoam’ cups, enough every year to circle the earth 436 times!

Polystyrene foam makes up 25-30% of landfill space and is not recyclable, so any cup you use today will still be around 500 years from now. It does however break up into smaller pieces and is notorious for choking animals and clogging their digestive systems.

It was big news years ago when McDonalds moved some of its sandwiches out of their trademark foam clamshells and into paper wrappers. The environment was proclaimed the winner and we all went back to saying, “Yes, I’ll have fries with that.” But foam food containers did not go away

Incinerating polystyrene foam is not an acceptable alternative to burying the material, as it gives off over 90 different hazardous chemicals, including styrene vapors and dioxin.

Terrible!  But there is more scary news…

The basic chemical component of the material (styrene) has the potential to leach into your food and then into your body.  The migration of styrene from a polystyrene cup into the beverage it contains has been observed to be as high as 0.025% for a single use. That may seem like a rather low number, until you work it this way: If you drink beverages from polystyrene cups four times a day for three years, you may have consumed about one foam cup’s worth of styrene along with your beverages. Mmm…. chem-i-callyyyy… (grinning planet)

Styrene is also known to migrate more quickly into fattier and hot food or drinks.  Which means even more chemicals in our bodies…  this exposure has been linked to thyroid problems, menstrual irregularities, breast cancer, prostate cancer, neurological effects such as nervousness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, etc.

Definitely something to consider before you order a coffee to go or ask to have your dinner packed up!

The good news – Many places (i.e. Taiwan, Portland, OR, and Orange County, CA) already have a ban on ‘Styrofoam’ in some fashion. For example, some cities have a ban on its use for restaurant take-out containers, but have not yet banned it in grocery stores.

Here’s a short video from Monterey, where the city council has banned polystyrene – way to go Monterey!

Because its usage is so widespread, banning it is often a gradual process. But, every ban helps, and petitions and proposals to ban Styrofoam should be supported by everyone. We should be letting companies that we do business with know that we support the usage of ‘Styrofoam’ alternatives, even if it adds a few pennies to the purchase price of the product. You can help spread the message by asking for your take-home food to be placed in a foil pan, or wrapped in foil, instead of the usual Styrofoam container. Filling a reusable coffee mug at the convenience store instead of grabbing a ‘Styrofoam’ cup also helps send the message that these cups are not desired, nor are they needed. And, if your city is successful in getting a Styrofoam ban on the ballot… do your part to save the environment by voting for the ban.  (bright hub)

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One Response to “The foam poison…”

  1. Kevin July 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    It seems that only a nation wide ban will rid us of this pollutant! There are those that care and those that do not, and a ban would be for those that do not care. A,s long as restaurants keep sending the food home with people when they can’t eat the huge portions they get, we will continue to have this problem. Reduce portion size along with price and if there is extra food send it home in a paper biodegradable container. It just isn’t that difficult, but too many are focused on the bottom line with how the green lines their pockets and wallets. They are the ones that think green living means having huge amounts of money.

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