You may want to think twice before sipping your cafecito from that styrofoam cup.
When polystyrene foam, commonly known as styrofoam, is heated to high temperatures, it breaks up resulting in the leaching of the chemical, styrene, into foods and beverages. Styrene is considered a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the National Research Council. Though styrene is naturally present in trace quantities in foods such as strawberries, beef, and spices, microwaving foods and beverages in polystyrene foam containers can increase exposure levels to styrene.
Styrofoam is an ugly problem in our waterways causing mechanical and chemical issues for marine animals. Mechanically, polystyrene foam never biodegrades and instead breaks down into small balls that get lodged in the animals’ intestines and, oftentimes, cause lethal blockages. Chemically, the foam soaks up pollutants becoming a contaminated snack for a hungry sea turtle or an unwanted additive to the seafood that we eat.
As for the environmental impacts of polystyrene production, the process rates 2nd highest behind aluminum for detriment to the environment in the categories of energy consumption, greenhouse gas effect, and total environmental effect.
While recycling centers do exist, they are quickly being phased out and the lightweight nature of styrofoam makes it easy for containers to be blown into our waterways.
Utilizing self-governance, Miami Beach passed an Ordinance in 2014 prohibiting the sale/use of polystyrene food service containers at all city parks, buildings, events and sidewalk cafes like those on Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road.
Meanwhile, up the road in Hollywood, an Ordinance prohibiting the use of all plastic single-use food ware at restaurants east of the Intercoastal Waterway has been in effect since 1996. However, it seems that no one has gotten the message. As one restaurant owner was quoted as saying,
It’s pretty absurd…no one really follows those rules around here.”
Businesses caught breaking the ordinance could be subject to a $500 fine.
A Florida Bill With Some Not-so-Environmental Strings Attached
Though it seemed Florida was starting to sail in the right direction towards taking responsibility for the environment, Gov. Rick Scott signed a routine food safety bill into law with some not-so-environmental strings attached. South Florida cities that adopted the styrofoam ban before January 2016 are permitted to keep their Ordinances in place. These include: Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Hollywood, and Key Biscayne. Those communities that adopted bans this year like Coral Gables and Orlando, would have their measures reversed.
Under this bill, any new regulation would be prohibited until the Florida Department of Environmental Protection conducted a study (under a new division) on whether regulation of plastic bags and foam trays is needed.
it’s a people problem.” Says Rep. Jake Raburn
Raburn said another reason for the legislation was to avoid food born illnesses since Styrofoam is considered a “very safe product” for the sale of meats and bakery items.
Fortunately, there are leaders in the packaging industry taking it upon themselves to attack the styrofoam problem head on. One of those companies is Ecovative Design. They create packaging materials from fungi that is Styrofoam-like but a more environmentally friendly replacement. The Mushroom Packaging naturally biodegrades within a few weeks in a compost or backyard. This product is finding its way to major retailers such as IKEA who recognizes the need to slash waste and increase recycling.
Locally, Delray Beach’s Saltwater Brewery has teamed with Entelequia Inc. to create edible six-pack rings, in an effort to create a packaging solution that is friendly to the ocean and the environment as a whole.
Hope to influence the big guys.” Says Saltwater Brewery’s President, Chris Gove
If you want to make eco-friendly choices to eliminate the use of Styrofoam in your life, look for products that include features such as:
Manufactured from renewable resources
Contain biodegradable materials
Are easily recycled
Paola Espitia is a marine biologist who focuses on inspiring a “Blue Minded Society” in which we live mindful of our actions on the health of the oceans. She is a Certified SCUBA Diver (aka mermaid) and knows a few tunes on the ukulele. For Blue Mind inspiration, follow her on Ola’pi Creative’s Instagram and learn more at olapicreative.com.