Is styrofoam biodegradable?

This blog post will answer the question, “Is styrofoam biodegradable” and cover topics like the biodegradability of styrofoam and frequently asked questions related to the topic.

Is styrofoam biodegradable?

No, styrofoam is not biodegradable. According to Washington University, Styrofoam cannot be recycled since it takes 500 years to degrade.

What Is Styrofoam, Exactly?

Polystyrene takes the form of Styrofoam. Polystyrene is a transparent, amorphous, non-polar industrial thermoplastic by definition. Because it’s simple to process, it’s often made into foams, films, and sheets. 

The positives of polystyrene include its great resistance to diluted acids & bases, simplicity of molding, and optical clarity. Its shortcomings include weak oxygen & UV resistance, brittleness, and low impact strength.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is made up of microbeads containing pentane, is what Styrofoam is. High impact resistance, great processability, low weight, & thermal insulation are all features of this foamed kind of polystyrene. 

For this reason, we utilize it to make disposable trays, fast-food containers, drinking cups, and padding for a variety of packaged items.

Which is worse: Styrofoam or plastic?

Styrofoam is more harmful to the environment than plastic.

Like everything related to the environment, both sides have drawbacks. Which, let’s be honest, always makes the choice more difficult.

When exposed to our food & water sources, both are harmful. And both damage the environment because of the chemicals utilized. Massive emissions will likely be generated in order to produce either substance, permanently harming our climate.

Which is worse, then? No matter what material they are made of, food containers—which we seldom think about—damage our ecosystem.

Are Polystyrene and Styrofoam the Same Thing?

Yes, Styrofoam and Polystyrene are comparable materials, however, Styrofoam is protected by copyright and is a separate kind of Polystyrene. 

As previously mentioned, Styrofoam is trademarked as “closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam” and is just expanded polystyrene foam.

Typically, Styrofoam is associated with goods used in craft projects and as thermal insulators. While other varieties of expanded polystyrene are referred to as EPS foam, most people just call anything comparable Styrofoam.

To create EPS, raw polystyrene beads are inflated with steam until they are “puffy,” at which point they are cured in large bags and placed in a mold. They are once again steam-formed into an EPS foam block.

Biodegradability of Styrofoam 

Styrofoam is not biodegradable.

When it comes to disposal procedures or chances of recycling, Styrofoam is comparable to a lot of conventional plastics. This kind of plastic must be disposed of in a landfill since it cannot be recycled, biodegraded, or composted.

It’s surprising how much Styrofoam is discarded each day. In the United States, it is estimated that 25 billion plastic coffee cups alone are discarded annually. This is equivalent to almost three million tonnes of discarded polystyrene.

This implies that each of the 25 billion cups will remain in the ground for up to 500 years before decomposing, greatly increasing landfill contamination. 

The remaining 20% of Styrofoam cups that are not disposed of in landfills, or those that are littered, may harm the environment’s fauna, soil, and water.

If you throw it out with your recyclables, the whole batch will get contaminated and the recycling process will be harmed.

Does Styrofoam recycle well?

Styrofoam is not recyclable. Though theoretically recyclable, most municipal recycling systems do not accept expanded polystyrene (EPS), sometimes known as styrofoam. 

This is because cleaning and processing the material is time- and money-consuming. However, you may throw styrofoam out with your other recyclables if your community accepts number 6 plastics.

So why is recycling Styrofoam such a waste of time? There are really a number of them; here are three of them.

  • Styrofoam is 90% air. At first glance, this could appear to be a positive thing as more air equals less plastic. However, although styrofoam items take up a lot of room in recycling bins, very few of them are actually recycled.
  • Styrofoam must first be collected, then it must be shredded and compacted into an ultra-dense substance before it can be transferred to another location. 
  • Recycling polystyrene is a time-consuming procedure. Styrofoam that has been compressed may now be made into hard plastic products like picture frames and crown molding, but it can no longer be recycled to make fresh foam since the compression eliminated that option.
  • There is no financial incentive to begin processing polystyrene foam goods since recycling styrofoam is not profitable because recycling is, after all, a business. 

Since it costs around $1000 to recover $200 worth of styrofoam, attempting polystyrene recycling often results in a financial loss.

Six eco-friendly alternatives for Styrofoam

One of the greatest methods to get rid of polystyrene and its harmful effects on the environment is to switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives that function just as well. 

That might include simplifying things and substituting single-use goods and paper or cardboard packaging, seeking novel and creative alternatives, or completely doing away with disposables. 

Check out these six options for polystyrene and think about how you might include these simple adjustments into your everyday routine.

  • Reusable packaging
  • Cardboard or paper goods
  • Bamboo items
  • Goods derived from cornstarch
  • Peanuts made with coconut husks

I will now elaborate on these.

Reusable packaging

Naturally, anything that is reusable is preferable to any kind of throwaway material, whether it is recyclable or not. 

Additionally, although many restaurants still forbid patrons from bringing in their own containers for takeaway, others are starting to change their policies. 

After all, taking a reusable coffee cup to work has long been customary; you should surely make use of it whenever you can.

Cardboard or paper goods

Paper or cardboard is maybe the next best substitute for polystyrene, and in certain situations, they are even preferable. Both paper and cardboard are quite biodegradable; in certain situations, you may even add them to your compost pile. 

For instance, certain quantities of paper and cardboard may be put into electric composters like Lomi. The soil created from these ingredients may subsequently be used for both indoor and outdoor plants.

Bamboo items

The usage of bamboo in packaging & other single-use products like disposable plates and cutlery is on the rise. Due to its quick growth and minimal care needs, bamboo is one of the planet’s most sustainable building materials. 

Additionally, it may be composted like paper goods since it is made of plant material.

Goods derived from cornstarch

Cornstarch packaging is another eco-friendly substitute for polystyrene. Cornstarch-based goods, sometimes referred to as PLA (polylactic acid) products, break down to carbon dioxide & water within a year. 

In single-use bags, containers, cups, plates, and utensils, it may be used as a straight substitute for EPS items.

Peanuts made with coconut husks

Styrofoam is widely used as packing peanuts, those tiny bits in the form of peanuts that fill empty spaces surrounding sensitive goods during transportation. 

Like all other polystyrene goods, classic styrofoam peanuts serve their purpose well but are difficult to recycle and do not biodegrade. 

Fortunately, coconut husks, commonly referred to as coir, are gaining popularity as alternatives to packaging peanuts. The greatest aspect is that they completely biodegrade!

Is Styrofoam Bad for You?

Styrofoam may be dangerous to people, animals, and wildlife in addition to polluting landfills and harming the environment. When styrene comes into touch with certain foods and drinks, it may leach. The material Styrofoam cannot biodegrade.

Alcohol, hot beverages, and fatty or greasy meals are examples of this. Although it has been mentioned as a human carcinogen, additional study is necessary. According to research, it can be found in all human tissue & breast milk samples.

Wildlife that consumes trash that has been dumped in rivers or the environment may suffocate or develop other serious health problems that result in death.

Additionally, methane gas emissions from Styrofoam in landfills are thought to be almost 20 times more potent than CO2 emissions.

How Do Waterways Get Affected by Styrofoam?

When Styrofoam is discarded or finds its way into rivers, it may potentially have one of the worst effects on the environment. It contributes to the problem of ocean plastic because of how readily it may float through streams and into the ocean.

After then, it may disintegrate into smaller bits, which marine creatures would eat and choke on. Additionally, it may harm other creatures by choking on or becoming entangled in Styrofoam items, as well as litter roadways, and beaches, block storm drains, and obstruct sewers.

Styrofoam: Is it harmful to the environment?

Yes, styrofoam is harmful to the environment.

The source of Styrofoam is a plastic polymer. Various chemical components are bonded together to form polymers. It contains styrene & benzene for polystyrene. These substances may be dangerous and hazardous.

Styrofoam is HORRIBLE for the environment, to answer your question. I’m sure you’re asking why. Do not fear; we will inform you of its detrimental consequences on the environment and your health.

Leaching is these foams’ primary negative effect on health. Styrofoam is often used for hot meals and beverages. The breakup of foam caused by hot objects might leak toxins into your meal or beverage. Your health might suffer irreparable harm if this occurs.

It is also well recognized that Styrofoam poses a health risk. People who reside in places where polystyrene products are widely used have an increased risk of developing cancer, depression, weariness, and other illnesses.

The garbage that Styrofoam produces is one of its biggest risks. There is a lot of Styrofoam out there, and getting rid of it might be difficult.

Additionally, Styrofoam garbage pollutes the ocean by ending up there. Aside from that, the toxic compounds it creates cause a lot of marine animal deaths. Because of the chemicals, it contains, polystyrene may subsequently evaporate into the air & cause the ozone layer to thin.

Do you believe that dumping Styrofoam items in landfills would be beneficial? But they won’t, sadly. Products made of Styrofoam are just as dangerous in landfills as they are everywhere.

The decomposition process for foams takes roughly 500 years. Given their fluffy nature, they will only occupy space at this time. They may end up in bodies of water or crowded areas if they are dispersed by the wind.

Conclusion:

In this post, we discussed the biodegradability of styrofoam, eco-friendly alternatives to styrofoam, and the environmental impacts of styrofoam.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs), “Is styrofoam biodegradable?”

Styrofoam: Is it harmful to the environment?

Since polystyrene takes a long time to break down, it may affect water sources if the foam is incorrectly disposed of. Hazardous waste is produced in vast quantities by the polystyrene industry. 

Additionally, the production of polystyrene has a significant impact on global warming.

Does plastic degrade more quickly than Styrofoam?

Furthermore, as Styrofoam takes a long time to degrade, it remains in the environment as garbage. However, plastic items may be recycled even if they do not degrade.

Is Styrofoam more environmentally harmful than plastic?

Cups made of Styrofoam are not biodegradable. This amount of single-use plastic waste is problematic for a number of reasons. First, Styrofoam cups cannot decompose biologically. 

Styrofoam cups shatter into minute bits, which linger in the environment for hundreds of years rather than decomposing over time.

Which is worse for beverages, plastic or Styrofoam?

Because Styrofoam insulates far better than plastic, your hot beverages will remain hotter longer and your cold drinks will stay colder for longer. 

Plastic cups are not advised for hot beverages, as they lack Styrofoam’s insulating capabilities.

How does styrofoam fare in landfills?

According to a widely used estimate, styrofoam may occupy up to 30% of a landfill’s volume. It takes a while for it to decay in the landfill. 

The lifetime of Styrofoam in a landfill has been estimated to be between 500 years and much longer.

References:

http://blogs.colgate.edu/sustainability/2011/11/10/styrofoam-why-it-is-harmful-alternatives/#:~:text=Styrofoam%20is%20non%2Dbiodegradable%20and,landfills%20are%20there%20to%20stay.

https://sciencing.com/styrofoam-biodegradable-22340.html
https://www.cruzfoam.com/post/is-styrofoam-biodegradable-or-recyclable-four-facts-you-should-know

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