Styrofoam. It's the spongy stuff that makes up your takeout coffee cup. Everyone knows it's toxic. But did you know that your coffee cup lid is the same type of plastic? Styrofoam is simply a brand name for "expanded polystyrene foam," which is basically polystyrene that's expanded with air. Along with hundreds of other products, Styrofoam cups and polystyrene lids are 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.
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.
WHAT ABOUT RECYCLING?
These types of 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 Styrofoam coffee cups each year—most with a polystyrene lid. Because they're typically not recycled, polystyrene and Styrofoam 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 and Styrofoam products.
What can I do?
Pledge to go #foamfree by avoiding polystyrene and Styrofoam products, then share this commitment with your community.
Check the map.
In addition to going #foamfree, people are taking action by banning Styrofoam and polystyrene products in their communities. 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 and Styrofoam. 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.
Call Your Representative!
Email Your Representative!
Tweet Your Representative!
Want to kickstart a ban in your community? Click here for our Action Guide!
Spread the word.
How to 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 basically the same thing as 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?
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