You recognize the spongy stuff that makes up your takeout coffee cup. But did you know that your coffee cup lid is probably the same type of plastic? Expanded polystyrene foam—commonly known as "Styrofoam"—is basically polystyrene that's expanded with air. Americans use more than 25 BILLION of these cups each year—many with a polystyrene lid. Polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam are plastics made from styrene, which was found "reasonably 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.
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What can you do?
Pledge to go #foamfree by avoiding single-use polystyrene products, then share this commitment with your community.
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Check the map.
In addition to going #foamfree, many communities are taking action by banning polystyrene products. In April 2017, with support from a coalition that included 5 Gyres, Culver City became the 100th municipality in California to ban polystyrene; we also support SB 705, the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 2017, which would be effective statewide. Use our map to learn where bans have passed or are pending, then jump to where you can get involved!
See those highlighted states? That's where the plastics industry is fighting back by supporting preemptive legislation. Often proposed in areas where local municipalities are considering or have enacted plastic bag ordinances, preemptive laws—also known as the "ban on bans"—outlaw regulation of plastic "auxiliary containers," including polystyrene. Some even violate "home rule" provisions of state constitutions! Under preemptive law, municipalities lose their rights to decide local issues—and individuals are denied the right to take action in their own communities.
Did you discover a ban we missed? Please email info(at)5gyres.org and we’ll add it to the map!
Whether your representative is considering a preemptive or polystyrene ban—or has not yet voiced their opinion—use the buttons below to request support for proactive legislation. Want to start a ban in your community? Click here for our Action Guide!
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Spread the word.
Get your fave spot to go #foamfree!
You: Hi! Did you know that this [cup/lid/plate] is made from polystrene?
Them: No, what’s that?
You: It’s kind of like Styrofoam, minus the air.
You: It’s pretty toxic stuff.
Them: Great, are you ready to order?
You: It gives animals cancer.
Them: And I care because?
You: Humans are animals.
Them: Oh. Right.
You: There are a lot of cost-effective, sustainable alernatives available now. Recycled—and recyclable, or even compostable—plates, boxes, cups, even lids! Some cafes are starting programs where you pay a deposit and get it back when you return the cup, or incentivizing customers to bring their own with a discount.
Them: Cool! I’ll ask my manager about that.
You: Great. I’d love a coffee. Can you put it in my reusable cup?
WHERE DOES STYRENE HIDE?
You can identify 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.
WHAT ABOUT RECYCLING?
Polystyrene plastics are extremely toxic to make and difficult to recycle. The EPA ranks Styrofoam manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation. Polystyrene and Styrofoam are even banned from many recycling programs because of contamination problems—less than 2% of polystyrene was recycled in 2013.
WHERE DOES FOAM GO?
According to the EPA, Americans use 25 billion expanded polystyrene foam coffee cups each year—most with a polystyrene lid. Because they're typically not recycled, polystyrene plastics often end up in landfills and waterways. In our 2016 Plastics BAN List, 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 products.
Thank you to our partners!
As an organization staffed by feminists, 5 Gyres understands sexism to be a huge problem, and we stand firmly against it. We’re also aware of the thoughtlessness that so much of our media has shown in objectifying women’s bodies—and we see a similar thoughtlessness in the way that so many of us use non-reusable cups and lids on a daily basis. With this campaign, we intended to highlight both. Participants chose to be a part of our tongue-in-cheek initiative because they wanted to make people stop and pay attention. We believe that the choice to be environmentally conscious is both environmentalist and feminist, and hope you agree.
- Washington Post: You Have Never Actually Used A Styrofoam Cup, Plate or Takeout Box
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Styrene Profile
- Susan Genualdi, Patricia Nyman & Timothy Begley (2014) Updated Evaluation of the Migration of Styrene Monomer and Oligomers From Polystyrene Food Contact Materials to Foods and Food Simulants, Food Additives & Contaminants
- J. P. H. Linssen, J. C. E. Reitsma and J. P. Roozen (1992) Polystyrene Sheet Composition and Temperature as Parameters for Migration of Styrene Monomer into Corn Oil