Pack It Up: Styrofoam’s Hold On Our Country Is Ending

Photograph/Safer Chemicals

Photograph/Safer Chemicals

Editor’s Note: This featured article was written by 15-year-old Margo Cohen from California, USA.

Styrofoam seems to be everywhere. Coffee cups, egg cartons, takeout containers, packaging, blocks, plates, bowls, and more. It’s so common that we hardly ever notice it, but maybe we should. 
Americans first started using expandable polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam™, in 1941 as a type of building insulation and mold for flower arrangements. It was not intended to be used as food storage.

However, as the years progressed, brands separate from the original manufacturer began marketing it as a food and drink container, which is (arguably) it’s most common use in our everyday lives. These companies did not seem to take into account the fact that polystyrene is extremely harmful to consumers, and is known to be a possible carcinogen. It has numerous short and long term health effects, ranging from small things like balance issues to issues with brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerve impairment.


These containers are arguably even more harmful to the environment then they are to people. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to best paraphrase it’s shocking footprint by explaining that “our nation averages 547,945 tons of garbage every day, and that 0.25 percent of this weight is Styrofoam.” Estimates for the amount of time it takes to degrade range from a modest five hundred years to thousands. Our trash will literally outlive us, and our children, too. As global citizens, we have a responsibility to keep our planet clean and healthy, but polystyrene seems to be doing just the opposite.


But we may not even live that long, after all. According to a Rutgers University report, the styrene in styrofoam seeps into the foods and liquids that it holds, with tea with lemon soaking up the most of this deadly agent. I’ve mentioned already that the material can cause cancer, but it should be noted that people who work at the factories that make the product are at a significantly higher risk of developing the disease, due to their increased exposure to the substance.


So, what can we do to fix this silent hazard? The Californian legislature recently proposed a bill to ban the styrene in the state(support the movement here), following the footsteps of many other cities and states who have been blazing the way towards a more eco-sustainable future. In addition, the worldwide fast-food chain McDonald's pledged to phase out the use of styrofoam cups by this January.

However short this article may have been, let’s make the reign of styrofoam even shorter. We must come to terms with the devastating effects of what seems to be our favorite material and find a better solution to finally pack up and send off the problem.


Margo Cohen is a student activist in Danville, California. When she’s not fighting the system, she enjoys relaxing with her family + two dogs, serving on her town’s Youth Council, and helping her community as a DoSomething ambassador.