The Environmental Impact of Styrofoam Cups

The Environmental Impact of Styrofoam Cups

Styrofoam cups are convenient because they are cheap, lightweight and durable. However, it is important to understand how these attributes impact the environment.

Styrofoam Cups – Environmental Impact

1. Land and Water Pollution

Americans reportedly throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year.

Unfortunately, Styrofoam is non-biodegradable. 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. Even when Styrofoam is collected properly, it often isn’t recycled because it costs too much money ($3,000 per ton). Recycling Styrofoam does not make economic sense for most cities and town in the United States. As a result, 80% of Styrofoam products end up in landfills while most of the remaining 20% accumulates 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.

Environmental Impact of Styrofoam Cups - Litter on America's Beaches

2. Harm to Animal Life

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.

3. Pollution from Manufacturing

It is estimated that the process of manufacturing Styrofoam cups releases approximately 21 million tons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the production process involves using petroleum which is a finite resource that creates pollution and accelerates climate change.

Eliminating Styrofoam Cups

Citywide and Statewide Styrofoam Bans

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.

Environmental Impact of Styrofoam Cups - NYC Ban on StyrofoamFoam Free NYC Poster

As for statewide bans, on May 1, 2019 Maine became the first state to ban Styrofoam cups and containers.

Many believe that other states will follow suit.

Statewide Styrofoam Cup Bans

It can be difficult for states and municipalities to pass bans because of opposing views. A lot of people feel that a ban would immediately reduce litter. Others disagree and say that there is little evidence to prove that bans have helped the environment.

Restaurants and Consumers Taking Proactive Steps to Curb Styrofoam Consumption

Some restaurants have realized the negative impacts of Styrofoam and have stopped using them on their own.

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.

What Can You Do? Are You Ready to Ditch Styrofoam Cups?

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!

Eco-Friendly Bio-Degradable and Compostable Coffee Cups

Eco-Friendly Coffee CupsEco-Friendly Coffee Cup


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!

If you are interested in avoiding plastic and helping the environment then reading our favorite book on the subject could be useful!

Life Without Plastic Book - The Environmental Impact of Styrofoam Cups

Life Without Plastic is a step-by-step practical guide to help you and your family avoid plastic and create a healthier planet. We liked the tangible steps it offers along with the carefully researched information. See why popular environmentalist call it required reading.

More Articles

About the Author SBToolkit

Leave a Comment:

Kevin Jackson says October 18, 2019

I’m more interested in the global warming aspect of styrene cups.
Paper cups emit almost one quarter pound of CO2 during manufacture, that is very bad, not to mention they are made of trees.
Irresponsible disposal of waste is a separate issue. My trash goes into sealed containers and is buried, therefore minimal contamination of the environment.
Almost all the styrene plastic pollution on earth is a result of failed recycling efforts.
How much CO2 is produced in the manufacture of styrofoam cups?

    SBToolkit says October 19, 2019

    Great point Kevin, well-articulated. According to a report by, the production of Styrofoam cups generates 21 million pounds of CO2 annually. The link to the report and relevant passage are below. We will be sure to add that to the article.

    Excellent contribution – thank you for being here!

    “For every Styrofoam cup that is manufactured, 0.07229 pounds of CO2 (or the equivalent of CO2) is released into the atmosphere (Franklin Associates, 2011). A standard cup weighs 4.7 grams (or approximately 0.01 pounds).The United States produces about 3 million tons of Styrofoam every year so approximately 21 million tons of CO2 equivalent are released into the atmosphere every year.”

jacob says December 2, 2019

great job

    SBToolkit says December 2, 2019

    Thank you Jacob, glad to have you here.

Darshana says April 12, 2021

Can you tell me what is the good alternative to use instead of plastic water bottles in big a convention where people are moving . It’s hard to carry your own water bottle so please give me good alternative to use. Thanks

    SBToolkit says April 16, 2021

    You could try

    According to their website, they sell water in cartons that are 92% renewable and are less destructive than plastic bottles. We aren’t affiliated with them, but some of our users and writers have seen them at concerts and other large events and liked them.

Add Your Reply