You wouldn’t use something if you knew that it was a carcinogen, would you? You might be, every day. Popularly known as Styrofoam™, polystyrene foam take-out containers leach a carcinogen (styrene) into food and beverages when heated. California is on the verge of passing the first statewide ban on polystyrene in the nation.
Clean Water Action is fighting foam in California. Our 2011 litter study found that 68% of trash on urban streets comes from take-out food packaging. Foam containers are light-weight and blow away before street sweepers and litter pickers can get to them. Foam breaks apart into small pieces and flows through storm drains to waterways, ending up as the most pervasive form of beach litter in California.
EPA studies conducted in the 1980s showed that 100% of Americans have Styrene in their bodies. Since Styrene is used in all kinds of applications, including injecting it directly into foods to preserve their shelf life, we are all exposed without our knowledge.
More testing is not the answer, though. When you look at what is already known, banning polystyrene now makes a lot of sense. 15% of all litter in urban areas is polystryrene. It is the second most common form of man-made debris on our beaches. Cleaning up polystyrene litter costs California taxpayers billions of dollars each year. What isn't collected in clean-ups gets widely distributed in the environment. Birds, fish, filter feeding marine organisms, and other animals mistake it for food. Many seabirds are dying of starvation with stomachs full of plastic." Worker and consumer health is also at risk.
Polystyrene (Styrofoam™) may seem like a cheap convenient material, but that is because its true costs to health and our environment are borne by others, including taxpayers and consumers. California must ban polystyrene take-out food containers. They are not recyclable, and safer, more sustainable alternatives are available.