From packing peanuts to disposable coffee cups, each year the US alone produces some two billion pounds of Styrofoam — none of which can be recycled. Frustrated by this waste of resources and landfill space, Ashton Cofer and his science fair teammates developed a heating treatment to break down used Styrofoam into something useful. Check out their original design, which won both the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award and the Scientific American Innovator Award from Google Science Fair.
Come 2017, selling any polystyrene product will be prohibited.
San Franciscans, bid adieu to Styrofoam. On Tuesday, the city unanimously passed an ordinance banning the sale of any product made from polystyrene, the petroleum-based compound that’s molded into disposable dishware, packing materials, and beach toys—among other things. Even though it’s commonly known as Styrofoam, that’s just a name-brand owned by the Dow Chemical Company.
It’s not SF’s first such restriction. In 2007, the city prohibited the use of polystyrene use in all to-go food containers. More than 100 cities, along with Washington, DC, now have similar laws in place. (The first Styrofoam ban was passed in 1988 by the city of Berkeley.) But San Francisco’s new ordinance, part of the city’s goal of “zero waste” by 2020, is the broadest yet. As of January 1, 2017, it will be unlawful to sell polystyrene packing materials (those infuriating foam peanuts, for instance), day-use coolers, trays used in meat and fish packaging, and even foam dock floats and mooring buoys.
Polystyrene’s story begins in the first half of the 20th century, but it didn’t become a staple of our everyday lives until the second half, when world production of plastic resins increased 25 fold. Before long, polystyrene was synonymous with take-out food, barbeque plates, and disposable coffee cups—Americans today still use an estimated 25 billion foam cups each year.
A new study suggests that whole classes of BPA-free plastics—including the kind in styrofoam—release estrogenic chemicals.
Most people know that some plastics additives, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may be harmful to their health. But an upcoming study in the journal Environmental Health finds that entire classes of plastics—including the type commonly referred to as styrofoam and a type used in many baby products—may wreak havoc on your hormones regardless of what additives are in them.
The study’s authors tested 14 different BPA-free plastic resins, the raw materials used to make plastic products, and found that four of them released chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen. That’s not surprising. As Mother Jones reported earlier this year, many BPA-free plastic goods—from baby bottles and sippy cups to food-storage containers—leach potentially harmful estrogenlike chemicals. But until now, it wasn’t clear what role the resins played. The new study suggests that sometimes the resins themselves are part of the problem, though additives such as dyes and antioxidants can make it worse.
In the case of polystyrene, the resin used in styrofoam and similar products, the authors tested 11 samples and consistently found estrogen seepage after exposure to intense steam or ultraviolet rays.
Styrofoam is a registered trademark of Dow. The company stresses that its product is used for crafts and building insulation, not food and beverage containers. (“There isn’t a coffee cup, cooler, or packaging material in the world made from actual Styrofoam,” according to Dow’s website.) But generic polystyrene foam, which most people call styrofoam anyway, is ubiquitous in the food services industry, where its found in everything from meat trays to takeout containers. Polystyrene resin—which the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled a suspected carcinogen—is also used to make hard plastic items, including utensils and toothbrushes.