Students: Stop using styrofoam

Cole Carter

Cities across the nation are banning styrofoam. New York, Baltimore, San Marcos, Texas and the state of California have already pushed legislature to get rid of the plastic menace. While the legislation in California has failed, the three cities succeeded in their styrofoam ban. Why? Because styrofoam is dangerous to animals, humans and landfills alike. These cites created bills and laws to solve the problem, but students and faculty can still have a large impact by adopting eco-friendly consumption strategies.

Animals love to eat styrofoam. It breaks down into tiny bright white pieces that deer can eat faster than corn. The problem is styrofoam is totally indigestible. Animals getting full bellies on the remnants of Big Gulp cups will die of starvation in a couple of weeks due to blockage in the digestive tract. On top of this, the chemicals in polystyrene are toxic to animals, and even if blockage doesn’t occur, the animal will still die from the poisonous elements.

Polystyrene is made from three chemicals: benzene, styrene and pentane. The first two are linked to leukemia by the American Cancer Society and the Environmental Protection Agency. Pentane causes skin and eye irritability. Workers in the 14 Texas styrofoam plants are subject to all three on a daily basis. Many consumers have been subjected to the first two as well. 

If you’ve ever gotten Olive Garden takeout and decided to reheat it in the microwave the next day, did you make sure to transfer it to a plate instead of leaving it in the to-go box? If not, you may have carcinogens in your body. 

In New York, 90 percent of all styrofoam produced is sold in one-time use products, like cups, boxes and packing peanuts. Most of it ends up in landfills, with the remainder going to the ocean or local ecosystems. Styrofoam takes more than 500 years to decompose and makes up 30 percent of all landfill volume. There’s enough styrofoam cups produced every day to circle the earth if lined up end to end. This is entirely the fault of the common consumer. Twenty-five billion styrofoam coffee cups are used and thrown away each year. If everyone bought just one tumbler, we would save generations worth of waste and pollution.

Recycling styrofoam is a pain. Because polystyrene breaks down into tiny pieces and needs to be totally cleaned of any food particles, recycling companies sort out any styrofoam they receive from blue bins. Instead, you need to gather up all your styrofoam, wash it of any food residue and take it down to your local recycling facility, where someone will hand sort out any styrofoam with the slightest bit of residue on it and take the rest. 

Students have the power to slow down this destruction of our planet. Students, stop using to-go boxes and cups. Buy a couple of microwave friendly reusable containers and join the solution to the styrofoam problem.

Cole is an undergraduate studies sophomore from Houston. He is a guest columnist.