Styrofoam Containers at the Crossroad

Styrofoam ContainerStyrofoam containers seem to be facing the ultimate question “To be or not to be?”. What is interesting is that different countries are making absolute different decisions. US cities like Seattle and New York banned these Styrofoam take-out containers despite the disapproval of some restaurants managers who consider it as a rise in cost. In the contrary, China lifted the ban on foam trays from May 1st this year and this also faced lots of resistance with the concern that it may be a pollution to the environment and a threat to human health.

Are Styrofoam Containers Recyclable?

The answer is to be a yes or no, it depends. Although there are recycling symbols on some of the pieces, curbside collection programs in many cities do not accept them since foam plastic is very difficult to recycle unless kept very clean and separate from all other types of plastic. However, there are some companies or organisations who announced that they can recycle Styrofoam takeout containers even they are contaminated. The reason which leads to different answers may be that they are recycled for different purposes. Some foam manufactures use recycled foam to make new products where contaminated materials are forbidden. Other companies who accept Styrofoam containers may reprocess them into picture frames, flower pots etc.

Viewpoints For and Against Styrofoam Containers

Unlike wastes like glass and paper etc, the usage of Styrofoam is relatively less, Styrofoam constitutes about 0.5 percent of NYC’s waste. As a result it is unnecessary to build too many recycling centers for Styrofoam. While some companies offer recycling service for Styrofoam containers, it need to be transported or mailed to the site which may be costly. The fact that Styrofoam is extremely light weighted makes the transportation less effective than other kinds of materials. The use of compactors and balers may help to eliminate this problem.
Styrofoam is a kind of petroleum-based plastic. Polystyrene has the potential of leaching toxic substances into the food or beverages, especially when the temperature is high. However, some experts argued that this can only happen when the temperature exceeds 280 centigrade which is almost impossible in regular use.

What to do for Styrofoam Containers Recycling

According to the life cycle analysis conducted by different researchers, Styrofoam has outstanding properties such as thermal insulation, light weight and less environmental impacts. Hence it is a remarkable material for food and beverage take-out containers. Based on the reason why people against it, several suggestions are given as follows:
Confirm its safety. It should be made clear whether it is safety or not to use Styrofoam for hot food or beverage containers. If not, Styrofoam should never be used in this application. At least for now no research shows there is any specific hazard. To ensure the quality of the products, certain standards or certifications should be enacted and strictly supervised.
Build up better recycling programs. Many people do not have convenient access to Styrofoam recycling so many of them end up as trash. It should be noted that Styrofoam containers are difficult to degrade and take up much place in landfill with low weight. Since it can be recycled in some cases and national recycling programs have been well built. Use the recycling system already exist combining with the help of compactors or balers which reduce the volume of Styrofoam greatly and thus decrease the transportation cost, convenient recycling programs for Styrofoam containers can be easily built up.
Broaden the usage of Styrofoam containers and recycled Styrofoam. Since the relatively less usage of Styrofoam bring difficulty to its recycling, citizens should be encouraged to use Styrofoam trays as a alternative for other food or beverage containers when it is favorable. With a great deal of recycled material it is important that there are enough need for it. Nowadays recycled Styrofoam can be reprocessed to mix with virgin material or be made into new products. A bigger scale of this industry can help to consume the recycled Styrofoam containers.

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