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The Perils of Polystyrene

Written By Unknown on Friday, November 29, 2013 | 2:43 AM

Note: Polystyrene is one of the most widely used plastics, the scale of its production being several billion kilograms per year. It is a synthetic aromatic polymer made from the monomer styrene, a liquid petrochemical. Polystyrene can be rigid or foamed. Polystyrene can be naturally transparent, but can be colored with colorants. Uses include protective packaging, containers, lids, bottles, trays, tumblers, and disposable cutlery. It is very slow to biodegrade  for hundreds of years and is resistant to photolysis. It makes environment, shores and waterways litter ridden. Polystyrene foam is a major component of plastic debris in the ocean, where it becomes hazardous to marine life and "could lead to the transfer [of] toxic chemicals to the food chain". 

China banned expanded polystyrene takeout containers and tableware around 1999. States in USA are banning it one by one. Foamed Polystyrene packaging for TVs, computers, washing-machines etc is being replaced by pulp shapes, or ingeniously-folded cardboard shapes, or bubble-plastic, or, literally, packets of biodegradable popcorn. Some 20 US States have banned it. Europe is undertaking similar measures.  polystyrene

In India, recyclers of Styrofoam are non-existent and there is no law to phase it out. 

Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

The Perils of Polystyrene

Every year New York City residents throw away about 20,000 tons of plastic foam containers or, worse, the peanut-shaped packaging filler that sticks to anything in its path. Polystyrene foam is a plague on the environment. It is brittle. It breaks into pieces — sometimes very tiny pieces — that are devilishly hard to pick up. And there is no easy or cheap way to recycle it. New York City officials are considering a ban on foam containers and loose packaging. They should make it happen as soon as possible. Earlier this year the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, made a pointed case for banning the substance. “It lives forever,” she said. “It’s worse than cockroaches.” 

As now written, the Council’s prohibition would take effect in July 2015 unless the polystyrene industry found a safe, practical and inexpensive way to recycle the product by Jan. 1, 2015. Industry says it can, although at this point it is hard to imagine how such a recycling plan would work. Thomas Outerbridge, general manager of the company now building New York City’s most advanced recycling plant, in Brooklyn, told city officials in June that his new facility would not be able to recycle polystyrene foam products. They would go straight into the regular garbage, he said. In San Jose, Calif., one of many West Coast cities to ban the foam containers, the city’s website explains that the low market value and the high rate of contamination by food “makes it impossible to recycle” these products.
Many companies already have ditched the foam clamshell for less harmful alternatives, like paper or recyclable plastic. In September, for example, McDonald’s announced plans to replace polystyrene cups at its 14,000 restaurants with paper cups. New York City should be next. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when he proposed the prohibition on polystyrene foam earlier this year, “We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag will survive just fine.” 

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