What is Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a trademark named for a chemical compound called polystyrene.  Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic made from styrene monomers.  It is a light-weight material, about 95% air with very good insulation properties.  Because of the amount of air in its structure, Styrofoam is considered to be unsinkable and capable of maintaining its form.  Styrofoam does not degrade or break down over time. Styrofoam can be destroyed if it is incinerated at extremely high temperatures, creating only a small amount of water and carbon as by products. However if it is burned in a normal fire instead of in a specialized incinerator, it releases pollutants such as carbon black and carbon monoxide.

Styrofoam Statistics

The Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986. Over 90,000 workers face exposure to the effects of styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, each year in industries such as rubber and fiberglass manufacturing companies. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Health effects from exposure to styrene include irritation of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract and gastrointestinal problems. 

Non-Biodegradable Pollutant

Landfill Picture 3-2012 It is unknown how long it takes for polystyrene to biodegrade. Some experts estimate the decomposition of Styrofoam to 500 years, with limited recycling options. When used with food products, especially when heated, Styrofoam releases toxic chemicals into the food causing a contamination which can be hazardous to your health In addition, when exposed to sunlight,Styrofoam creates harmful air pollutants which contaminate landfills and deplete the ozone layer. Styrofoam is one of the most environmentally unfriendly types of waste that exist today impacting our planets ecological system.  

Styrofoam Impacts on Landfills

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Styrofoam is a major environmental problem.  Every day, approximately 1,369 tons of Styrofoam is buried into U.S. landfills. Landfills are quickly filling up and Styrofoam is an active contributor occupying more space than other waste. By volume, Styrofoam products fill up 25 to 30 percent of landfill space around the world. According to The Way To Go environmental group, Hong Kong landfills disposed of 135 tons of polystyrene waste every day in 2006. Due to the environmental impact, many cities and countries have implemented a banned on the commercial use of Styrofoam, including California; Seattle, Washington; Manila, Philippines; Toronto, Canada; Paris, France; Portland Oregon; and Taiwan) 


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Styrofoam Impacts on Animals

Styrofoam can harm animals that scavenge food from landfills. Styrofoam products have the tendency of easily breaking apart into small pieces making it a choke hazard to animals.   


Reduce And Reuse Styrofoam

Some businesses collect  Styrofoam for reuse and recycling. Check with local Styrofoam Packingpackaging stores in your area; most of them will accept Styrofoam pellets for reuse.  Another method to reduce the use of Styrofoam is choosing eco-friendly alternative products instead.  The packaging and food industries  have begun  introducing environmental friendly packaging alternatives to the market, such as air cushions and biodegradable food packaging.  Compared to Styrofoam, these two new eco-friendly alternatives help reduce pollution and conserve landfill airspace.

Did You Know?

  • Every ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees, 60,000 gallons of water, 225 kilowatt hours of electricity, 350
  •  pounds of limestone, 275 pounds of sulfur, 9,000 pounds of steam, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill airspace.
  • One tree yields about 700 paper grocery bags, which will be consumed in less than 1 hour by a supermarket.
  • Recycling 14 trees worth of paper reduces air pollutants by 165,142 tons.
  • A recycled aluminum can is back on the grocery shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days.
  • We use over 80,000,000,000 aluminum soda cans every year.
  • Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year.
  • About one-third of an average landfill's waste is made up of packaging material.
  • Out of every $10 spent buying things, $1 (10%) goes for packaging that is thrown away. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.
  • It takes approximately 201 tons worth of aluminum cans to make a Boeing 747.
  • A typical family consumes 182 gallons of soda, 29 gallons of juice, 104 gallons of milk, and 26 gallons of bottled water a year. That's a lot of containers - make sure they're recycled!

Do Your Part

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  • Always remember to PRECYCLE, reduce waste at the waste source  and choose environmentally friendly products.
  • Request aluminum foil instead of a take out box from your favorite restaurant.
  • Buy your eggs packaged in recycled paper cartons or recyclable material.
  • Use compostable paper or reusable dinnerware.
  • Take your unwanted packaging pellets/peanuts to a local packing and shipping store for reuse. 

These recycling facts and information was compiled from various sources including the National Recycling Coalition, the Environmental Protection Agency, High County Conservation Center, Earth Resource Foundation,,, and