If there's no polystyrene ban in your community or at your school, you can use these tools to start one. First, download our Action Guide, then follow the steps to grab additional materials that you might need. Good luck!
What’s the big deal about foam?
In this case, the word “foam” is used to represent polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam—better known as “Styrofoam.” These plastics are both made from styrene, which was found “anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program in 2011 and listed as a carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 in 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency ranks Styrofoam manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation.
Where does styrene hide?
You can identify Styrofoam and polystyrene products—from containers and cups to lids and cutlery—by the number “6” in the chasing arrow symbol on the bottom. Styrene can migrate from containers into food and drinks when it comes in contact with fatty or acidic foods—like your coffee or take out. According to the EPA, Americans use 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups each year—most coffee cup lids are polystyrene.
Where does foam go?
Styrofoam and polystyrene are difficult to recycle and are even banned from many recycling programs because of contamination programs. The EPA reports that less than 2% of polystyrene was recycled in 2013. As a result, these plastics often end up in landfills and waterways. In our 2016 Plastics BAN List study, we found that these are some of the most common forms of plastic pollution in the environment.
These plastics are widely used by corporations. However, as part of the recent “New Plastics Economy” report produced by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, leaders of 15 global brands—including Dow Chemical, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble— recommended the phase-out of polystyrene and Styrofoam products.
What can I do?
1. Pledge to go #foamfree by avoiding polystyrene and Styrofoam products, then share the commitment with your community.
2. Learn more about preemptive bans, which forbid any local ban on plastic “auxiliary containers”—including polystyrene and Styrofoam—and how they deny your right to take action in your community.
3. Check the map to find out where Styrofoam and polystyrene bans have passed or are pending, then jump to where you can get involved.
4. Use the tools to call, email or tweet your representative and ask them to support a polystyrene ban in your community.
4. Use our Action Guide resources to help jumpstart a ban in your community.
What’s 5 Gyres?
5 Gyres is a non-profit organization with the mission of empowering action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure.
I use plastic, but I also recycle. What’s the problem?
Plastic was first introduced in the 1950s as a miraculous substance that was cheap, lightweight and could be thrown away after use. But we quickly realized that there is no “away.” Most plastic never really biodegrades—it remains in our environment for hundreds of years. In fact, most of the plastic that we first started using in the last century is still in our environment today.
Even if you diligently place your plastic in a recycling bin—it’s probably not getting turned into another product. With oil markets down and without a profitable market in which to sell recycled plastic, it’s not cost-effective for recycling companies in developed countries to process it—so many sell it to developing nations where the same recycling capabilities don’t exist. In 2010, eight million metric tons of plastic entered our oceans—enough to cover every foot of coastline in the world.
I don’t see plastic in the ocean. How do you know it’s there?
In 1972, Ed Carpenter was the first to report plastic pollution in the North Atlantic. In 2001, Charles Moore published the first record of what later became known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 5 Gyres began studying the problem in 2008, and in 2009 completed our first Expedition—a 2,600-mile, 88-day journey from California to Hawaii through the North Pacific Gyre on the Junk Raft, a vessel build from 15,000 plastic water bottles. Since then, we’ve completed 16 Expeditions to study plastic pollution in the ocean.
In 2012, 5 Gyres gathered a group of scientists to establish the world’s first Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution, which we published in 2014. Together, we determined that there were 269,000 metric tons and 5.25 trillion particles on the ocean’s surface. The 2017 United Nations Clean Seas Campaign estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean today—500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy.
Okay, I’m convinced: Plastic pollution is a problem. So what’s the answer?
When the issue of air pollution dominated the environmental movement in the 1970s, the public and policymakers could look skyward and recognize that preventative measures were the only viable long-term solution. The issue of plastic debris drifting in the middle of the ocean lacks the benefit of visibility to quickly educate the public, leaving persistent misconceptions to drive problem-solving efforts.
Solutions are found when organizations like 5 Gyres work with people, politicians and corporations to stop emissions at the source. Microbeads are a great example. During a 2012 5 Gyres expedition, we found plastic microbeads—tiny round microplastics used in personal care products—in the Great Lakes. That research started a movement, which culminated in President Obama signing the Microbead Free Waters Act in 2015. The law will go into effect in 2018.
With better communication of new science, increased attention to improved waste management, and smarter plastic product design, we can solve this problem.