Like it or not Styrofoam is a part of American culture. The stark white material can be seen in the majority of restaurants and grocery stores from coast to coast.
Generally, when eating out I‘m mindlessly handed Styrofoam in the form of a cup or doggie-bag. It amazes me how clueless businesses are that continue to use the hazardous product without embarrassment.
I think to myself, “Are they are misinformed?”
Eight common substances, listed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which may cause an increased risk of cancer, include a “Report on Carcinogens” which is inhalable glass wool fibers and styrene that are present in Styrofoam. Specialists have determined these elements as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogen.”
While Styrofoam can be extremely convenient and versatile, the material is known for its destructive effects on the environment as well. Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam takes more than 2,000 years to biodegrade; it is difficult to break down after disposal which contributes to the buildup of waste of the planet’s oceans and landfills.
Mia Hansen knows just how taboo Styrofoam is.
Hansen, a 10 year old from Carlsbad, California visited a Jamba Juice this summer and noticed an abundance of Styrofoam cups handed out with every drink order.
Having learned the devastating environmental effects caused by Styrofoam, Hansen decided to take action and convince “the category-defining leader in healthy blended beverages” to re-think their carbon footprint and with regard to the earth’s best interest.
In the summer of 2012, with her mother’s help, Mia started a petition page on Change.org. Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform and can be accessed here.
In the petition she writes:
“I’m 10 years old and when I was at Jamba Juice a couple of weeks ago, I ordered a smoothie and they gave it to me in a Styrofoam cup! The person behind me ordered yogurt and they gave her yogurt in a Styrofoam container, too. That’s just ridiculous,” writes Mia. “Styrofoam takes so long to break down into the Earth. In the ocean, several animals think that this product is food, so when they go to eat it, the Styrofoam can kill them!”
“Will you ask Jamba Juice to stop using Styrofoam in all their stores?”
More than 130 thousand supporters jumped on board with Mia’s anti-Styrofoam cause, enough to catch the attention of Jamba Juice execs.
Hanson announced that her petition had been heard, and the smoothie-maker would be axing the use of Styrofoam in all stores:
“Jamba Juice responded to me within three weeks of starting this petition! I spoke with them on the phone and they just sent me a letter that says very clearly that they will not have polystyrene cups in any of their stores by the end of 2013,” said Hansen. “Can you believe it??!!! Thanks, again, guys — We Won!!!”
Hanson won a small battle against Styrofoam by taking an action that is available to anyone without cost. Through her petition, Hanson sent a loud message to companies looking to save a buck at the cost of harming the environment and the health of its consumers.
In an effort to reduce waste for a healthier environment, several alternatives to Styrofoam have been developed as sustainable replacements. So why aren’t more companies using them?
Examples of alternatives to Styrofoam include:
- A completely biodegradable material derived from fungi and the roots of agricultural residues that has the same performance as Styrofoam. Click EcoCradle for more information.
- Corn-based compostable meat trays instead Styrofoam trays for packaging meat.
- Grocery stores can switch to non-Styrofoam loose filled packaging materials, better known as packing peanuts; these can be replaced with starch-based packing peanuts, which are made with corn, grain sorghum and other crops.
- Wine shippers that are made with polystyrene can use molded fiber or molded pulp packaging, which retain the same cushioning and insulation properties without the carbon footprint.
- Biodegradable foam packaging works as an alternative to Styrofoam, and is made from a material derived from sugar cane processing.
The importance of alternatives to Styrofoam is vital considering most communities do not accept polystyrene products for recycling and polystyrene recycling creates additional pollutants and uses additional non-renewable resources. Recycled polystyrene cannot be used to make new Styrofoam cups and containers, so additional fossil fuel resources are still necessary to manufacture these new products.
Paper products and most plant based products can be recycled and used as post-consumer materials to make new products. Glass, ceramic and stoneware containers can simply be washed and reused, saving valuable resources.
For now, inspiration can be sought from a small battle was won by a 5th grader who was clearly informed and fearful of our planets future.
“It made me feel like anyone of any age in any country can really make a difference in the world,” said Mia regarding her victory with pulling Styrofoam from Jamba Juice.
While Styrofoam isn’t a progressive product, young minds with progressive thought and action like Mia are making protecting our planet a priority.
Want to impact Styrofoam use in your community?
- Bring your personal cup and/or reusable container to restaurants that use Styrofoam to reduce food-packaging waste.
- Use and recommend alternatives to Styrofoam packaging such as companies that have developed biodegradable alternatives to Styrofoam which use materials such as grass, sugar cane, cornstarch and fungi. Do your own research and educate others!
- Pressure companies to stop using Styrofoam by educating and offering solutions.
- Start a petition, silly.