Styrofoam cups are convenient because they are cheap and lightweight. However, it is important to understand how they impact the environment.
Americans reportedly throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year!
Unfortunately, Styrofoam is non-biodegradable. Meaning that instead of breaking down completely overtime, Styrofoam cups break into tiny pieces and stay in the environment for hundreds of years.
Styrofoam is a harmful substance partly because it is difficult to clean up. It escapes waste collection systems and accumulates on land and in water because it is easily windblown. Pieces of Styrofoam show up in our parks, forests, beaches, oceans, and rivers.
The San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation claims that its volunteers collected 12,575 pieces of Styrofoam from their beaches in 2017. The amount of single-use plastic littered on our planet’s land and water is shocking.
Pollution caused by Styrofoam is not only unpleasant to look at, but it also harms animal life. Animals often mistake Styrofoam as food and ingest it. This causes harm or death due to starvation, choking or chemical buildup in the digestive system.
The United Nations Environment program notes that this has a ripple effect. When animals, such as fish, ingest garbage they are not able to complete their natural functions. Humans then eat these animals which is not healthy either.
The infographic below from Sustainable Coastlines provides data on the debris that has the biggest impact on our marine life.
Styrofoam cups start off as small beads that are filled with air. They are then heated and molded into the shape of a cup. Manufacturers use a substance called a blowing agent that allows the beads to expand.
Previously, manufacturers used substances that depleted the ozone layer. The ozone layer is important because it protects the earth from the ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun. It also protects us from harmful sunrays.
Fortunately, today’s manufacturers use substances that do not deplete the ozone layer.
Some communities feel that the only way to completely stop the environmental impacts of Styrofoam cups is to ban them completely. New York City’s ban on Styrofoam containers went into effect on January 1, 2019, after a lawsuit prevented the ban from passing for about six years. However, not all states and municipalities have been able to pass bans. For instance, a 2018 proposal to ban Styrofoam cups in Hawaii was rejected by lawmakers despite support from the public. Opponents of the ban cited increased costs to consumers and small restaurants because recyclable or biodegradable food containers can be more expensive. A lot of people feel that a ban would immediately reduce litter. On the other hand, others disagree and say that there is little evidence to prove that bans have helped the environment.
Some restaurants have realized the negative impacts of Styrofoam and have stopped using them. Consumers have also persuaded restaurants to ban Styrofoam. For example, a professional surfer in Hawaii, recently convinced a popular restaurant to replace their single-use Styrofoam cups with compostable cups. The restaurant agreed and it is estimated that this one decision will keep around 48,000 Styrofoam cups out of Hawaii. More and more restaurants in Hawaii are following suit. This eco-friendly philosophy has the ability to increase brand awareness and attract new customers.
The most obvious step individuals can take to avoid single use plastic cups is to carry around reusable bottles and mugs whenever possible.
However, sometimes it does make sense to use disposable cups in your home, at a meeting or during an event. Instead of reaching for a traditional single use cup try an eco-friendly alternative like the one below!
Although not perfect, these are at least responsibly made and can break down in our environment unlike traditional Styrofoam. Try it now and see for yourself!