You recognize the spongy stuff that makes up your takeout coffee cup. But did you know that your coffee cup lid might be 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 "Styrofoam" cups each year. But there are other polystyrene products that go undercover in our everyday life, such as coffee cup lids, drinking straws, cutlery and cups (even Red Solo Cups). You can identify these plastics by the number "6" on the bottom.
Polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam are plastics made from styrene, a known animal carcinogen that was found "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the National Toxicology Program and "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and was listed as a carcinogen under California's Proposition 65 in 2016.
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.
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. This year, we also supported SB 705, the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 2017, which would have banned some polystyrene products statewide—we'll pick up that torch again next year. Meanwhile, use our map to learn where bans have passed or are pending, then jump to where you can get involved!
See those highlighted states in the United 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. Thanks to Surfrider Foundation for contributing data to our map!
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!
Call Your Representative!
Email Your Representative!
Tweet Your Representative!
Can you help us reach 15 million people with messaging about expanded polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam) pollution? With our scientific research and your voice, we can do it!
If every visitor to this page posts just four times using the hashtag #foamfree, we'll reach 15 million people this year with information about the simple actions they can take to make their lives—and our world—a whole lot healthier. Think about it: That's simply posting once a month for four months...to change the world! With your help:
15 MILLION people will know that polystyrene pollutes our oceans.
15 MILLION people will know that polystyrene isn't typically recyclable.
15 MILLION people will know that many coffee cup lids are made of polystyrene.
15 MILLION people will know that polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam are made from styrene, which can cause cancer.
All of this because YOU posted with the hashtag #foamfree!
(Bonus: If you have your Facebook linked to your Twitter or your Instagram linked to your Facebook, that counts as two posts. If they're all linked, that's three!)
Consider the power we all have when we work together. Four posts for 15 million. You can do that, right?
Get your fave spot to go #foamfree!
Owners of restaurants, cafes and bars may not know about the dangers of polystyrene pollution, but now YOU do. If you see polystyrene products in your favorite destinations, take a minute to talk to a manager. You could convince them 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's made from styrene, which causes cancer in animals.
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?
Learn more about styrofoam pollution.
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 styrofoam pollution is some of the most common type 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!
Our partners engage their communities to refuse single-use polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) products, and demand change through better polystyrene legislation. We know the fight will be long, which is why our campaign will run through 2018. With your support and commitment, we can drive the conversation and influence others to take action to be #foamfree!
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