Plastic is used extensively in our daily lives. It adds up to all the waste in our landfills and stays there for a long time. Discarded plastic pollutes our environment for hundreds of years until it decomposes. There are different kinds of plastics. Some plastic types are recyclable, some are not. Some are safe to use and some are composed of harmful chemicals, which can affect our health adversely. It is important to be aware of these different types of plastic before we use and discard them in our environment, to minimize the damage caused by them.
In this series we discuss, effects of use of different kinds of plastics, to help our readers make a wise decision while purchasing plastic products and responsibly use and discard them. In this Wlog, we will discuss about Polystyrene, which has a resin code of number 6. Do check out the previous Wlogs (Link below) about plastics from resin code 1 to 5.
Polystyrene is also commonly known as Styrofoam. It is used to make disposable plates, glasses, cups, meat trays, egg cartons, compact disk cases, peanut foam chips; also used in home construction to make rigid foam insulation underlay sheeting for laminate flooring. It is inexpensive, lightweight, easily formed, and an insulator of heat and electricity. These properties make it a very convenient material to use for various purposes.
Polystyrene is bulky yet lightweight, due to its low density, which also makes it difficult to recycle. Styrofoam products are often used to carry food. Polystyrene molecules get contaminated by the food and it makes the plastic unrecyclable. It is very brittle, it breaks down into very small pieces and gets dispersed in the environment. It is observed that, beaches all around the world are polluted with small bits of this plastic. Marine and aquatic life suffers consequences too, as they ingest this plastic by mistaking it for food and it affects their health. Styrofoam cups and carryout boxes are used a lot to carry hot foods and beverages. The insulated Styrofoam releases toxic substances when heated. These are very harmful for our health and may cause disruptions to the reproductive system. One of the toxic substances is styrene, which is a carcinogen, meaning, it is responsible for causing cancer. Styrene is released easily into food that is heated in a microwave, using a styrofoam container.
Styrofoam is difficult to recycle, but there are some cities with facilities to recycle it. The technology for recycling is available, however, it is not widely implemented. Many packing and shipping companies reuse the peanut foam chips that are used as a packing material. They can be contacted for the same and will gladly reuse the foam packing material. Other than that, it is very important to avoid the use of polystyrene products completely. We can carry our own stainless-steel containers when we take out food. We can use reusable coffee cups for carrying hot beverages. In unavoidable circumstances, we can at least make sure that the Styrofoam we use is kept clean and recycled. It is up to us to avoid sending polystyrene to our landfills and letting it contaminate our precious environment.
Do check out our previous Wlogs, discussing the plastics from Recycling Codes 1 through 5 ( PETE, HDPE, PVC and LDPE and Polypropylene.)