Some days I forget to bring my thermos of tea to work with me. When I buy beverages-to-go, I occasionally get a cup that is made of polystyrene – you know it as Styrofoam. This always surprises me because I forget that not everyone is obsessed with compostable disposable dinnerware like I am.
I understand the use of polystyrene- it is lightweight, keeps your coffee hot and the your fingers not. However, polystyrene is a non-renewal material, does not break down and contaminates air, water and soil when manufactured as well as when it is discarded. Polystyrene containers are designed to keep contents at the same temperature over a period of time. That’s why it is used in portable coolers that are used many times. A cup of coffee is usually consumed within 20 minutes as long as the liquid has a chance to cool enough to drink. I think the properties of polystyrene are wasted for this particular use. A paper cup with a cardboard sleeve will keep your hot beverage at drinkable temperature and can be recycled or composted when you are done with it.
A check on solid waste statistics reveals that 25-30% landfills are polystyrene and plastics. Polystyrene is lightweight, floats in water and is considered the main component of trash in the ocean. Also, the chemicals that make up polystyrene are incredibly harmful.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services , added styrene — the chemical used in the manufacture of Styrofoam cups and food containers — to its list of substances “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. Styrene has also been linked to nerve damage and hormonal disruption.
There are some businesses like airlines that are exploring better materials for their disposable containers. Plant based foam-composite materials are beginning to show up in place of the polystyrene containers.
This holiday season, pay attention to the disposable containers you use for gatherings. Choose compostable or recyclable and make arrangements to dispose of them properly instead of tossing them in the trash. Get ideas for green holiday entertaining at Reclaim Your Holidays.
If you buy beverages in disposable containers, please educate your local beverage retailer about polystyrene and ask them to replace their beverage containers with compostable or recyclable materials.
Oh, and remember your travel mug. Happy Holidays!