Substantive national statistics on how widely polystyrene is used are not available – especially as more and more restaurants voluntarily decide to de-foam and more major cities pass bans.
But a story in The New York Times last summer gave an inkling of its prevalence when it reported that in the city’s public school system alone, more than 4 million Styrofoam trays pass through cafeteria lines per WEEK – or 850,000 per day. That’s only one city and one sector of it.
Like many major newspapers, the Times didn’t credit a study or source when stating, “Styrofoam or polystyrene, is a petroleum-based material that can take centuries to decompose. About 20 American municipalities have banned or restricted use of the packaging.”
Most media outlets now accept as fact that Styrofoam is barely biodegradable.
Other studies have focused on marine life and the negative impact of Styro-flotsam on the world’s waters. On the City of San Francisco’s website, in the “What’s Wrong with Styrofoam?” article, the environmental department states why it was banned there. Among the reasons: “It can break into pieces, which are often mistaken for food and ingested by marine animals, birds and fish. Medical studies that suggest chemicals in polystyrene foam can cause cancer or can leach into food or drinks.”
Levy, of the plastics food service group, vehemently disagrees with those assessments, saying that the product has been used for 50 years and there is no evidence of related health issues. He also denies that it poses a threat to waterways or animals that live by or in water.
“Plastic floats,” he says, “but when it is ingested, it is not a problem. … I looked at some studies that say floating polystyrene is a nuisance for some (animals) but as far as the litter goes, we have ways to prevent litter… . Polystyrene foam in particular breaks into little pieces, and that does not produce an ingestion problem….”
For seagulls, for example, “it’s not a choking threat,” Levy says, adding, “The studies on floating plastics and things like that, I haven’t seen medical studies or things like on birds or marine animals…
“There is no doubt that litter is something that we are against,” he continues, speaking of the ACC and plastics professionals. “We want to prevent litter in our environment. And the issue with litter that ends up in the waterways is that, like it or not, there are laws that prohibit it – and so enforcement is the issue. …There’s no such thing as environmentally friendly litter. We don’t like litter any more than anyone else. But it really is a behavior problem.”