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The horrors of Styrofoam
Our fifth grade class at Broad View has been in charge of our school recycling program all year. We recently had to figure out what to do with a large amount of expanded polystyrene (EPS), usually referred to by the trade name, Styrofoam. Some new electronic equipment had been safely packed with it, but we didn’t know what to do with it on recycling day. What we learned when we tried to find out is that EPS is a complicated problem.
First of all, we learned that EPS has many uses, which means a lot of it is made and disposed of. It is made from 57 chemicals, including benzene, which is a problem because even short term exposure to it can cause serious health risks. When hot food or beverages are placed in foam containers, or when the containers are heated in a microwave, chemicals can leach into the food or beverage, creating risks to the consumer’s health.
Another problem with EPS is that it is not biodegradable and because it has so many uses, a very large amount of it ends up in landfills. In 2006, 870,000 tons of polystyrene plates and cups alone showed up in landfills, plus an additional 590,000 tons of other things made from polystyrene. It can take up to hundreds of years to dissolve and so much of it is disposed of each year.
Because we want to make positive changes and contributions, we decided to find out what could be done about EPS to keep us and the environment healthy.
Some communities have ways to recycle EPS used to pack fragile products. We found out, though, that recycling it has challenges, mainly involving cost. Because oil and gas prices have increased, it may cost too much to transport EPS to be recycled.
Other communities have banned EPS. Both Portland, Ore. and Orange County, Calif., have done this and other cities are considering a ban, as well.
Another solution is using alternatives to EPS. Companies or individuals shipping fragile products can use biodegradable packaging materials like the “peanuts” made from cornstarch or used newspapers. Restaurants can replace foam carry-out containers with paper containers. Consumers can buy hot/cold paper cups instead of foam cups.
Reusing packaging “peanuts” is another solution. We learned that we can bring the packaging “peanuts” to the UPS store for reuse.
We think it is important that everyone in our community become aware of the long term problems of EPS and make conscious decisions to help solve those problems. Know the health risks. Choose alternatives. Write to the mayor and legislators to see what they can do to help.
Our class has pledged to help solve the EPS problem. Will you join us?
Fifth grade class
Broad View Elementary