Is it Styrofoam?
First, let’s clear this up. You know how you blow your nose with a kleenex? Kleenex is actually a brand name that has been adopted as part of our vernacular. Same with Styrofoam. Styrofoam is actually a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company and is primarily used to refer to their polystyrene building materials.
While it’s common for us to talk about Styrofoam cups and containers, if we’re referring to the material, it’s polystyrene.
Polystyrene cup doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
According to the EPA*, Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 petroleum-based foam cups every year. That’s billion, with a B. And 500 years from now, the foam coffee cups we use today will still be sitting in a landfill.
If that’s not enough to make you stop the Styrofoam habit right now, I don’t know what is. So, here’s the challenge: say no to foam.
This will be either super easy for you or really hard – especially if you order takeout on a regular basis in certain states (ahem, Hawaii). While some communities have banned polystyrene (Styrofoam is a brand name for polystyrene), others continue to allow restaurants and food service companies to serve meals and drinks in foam containers. Foam containers that just. Don’t. Go. Away.
Here’s what you can do about it.
- If you frequent a restaurant that uses polystyrene containers, bring your own container for your meal and let the owner know that you want them to make a change. If restaurant owners don’t know that it’s important to their patrons, they might not make a change.
- Take the time to compliment a restaurant that’s using compostable takeout containers.
- Take your own beverage container to conferences and events where foam cups are commonly used. Bonus: you can use it for water, too, and eliminate plastic bottles as well.
- When you order items that will be shipped to you, ask the company not to use foam peanuts. If you do receive items in foam peanuts, recycle them with your own shipping or take them to a mail center that can use them.
- Same goes for shippers – think wineries – that might use a foam packer to protect their product en route.
- If you buy eggs, opt for the paperboard cartons rather than foam (or plastic). When those paperboard cartons get too floppy to reuse, they can be composted.
- Skip the arts and crafts that start with foam cones or balls. There are paper mache options!
- I’m sure this goes without saying, but if you’re planning an event, and simply cannot wash dishes, use compostable eco-friendly paper goods. See it as an opportunity to set a good example for the less knowledgeable!
- If you’re planning a vacation, do a bit of research to find out if there is a place to rent beach gear instead of buying a foam cooler or beach toys with the intent to discard them before you head home.
- If you’re shopping for kids (or grandkids) skip the foam toys.
- Avoid beanbag chairs. They’re filled with tiny polystyrene pellets.
- Mushrooms and Asian pears are often sold in foam packaging. Opt for brands that use cardboard packaging instead.
- Shop your local butcher counter instead of buying meat and fish that’s sold on styrofoam trays.
*The original EPA page that I linked to is no longer available. I’ve changed it to link to an archived version.