Your Carbon Footprint: How Polystyrene Makes it Larger
Polystyrene plays a dangerous role in our environment from its creation to its use. Polystyrene is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and creates a large amount of hazardous waste as a byproduct of its creation. Originally, polystyrene manufacturing also used chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), gases that break down the ozone layer. While the CFC’s once used to manufacture polystyrene have been phased out, the gases now being used are still greenhouse gases, meaning they increase the effect of global warming.
Many polystyrene containers are clearly labeled for recycling, so many consumers have trouble understanding how the substance can add to their carbon footprint. While polystyrene has some excellent uses and is, technically, recyclable, it is not a substance that biodegrades. That means that any polystyrene that makes its way into a landfill will stay there indefinitely, never breaking down and returning to the earth. Also, because of its bulk, many recyclers do not wish to deal with polystyrene foam, as it is not a profitable product to recycle. Foam is a contributing factor to the growth of landfills and waterway pollution, both of which are costly and energy intensive to solve. Since not all used polystyrene finds its way into the recycling bin, more oil must be harvested to create new foam to replace it, further degrading the environment.
While recycling polystyrene material can cushion the environmental blow of its use, alternatives are available that are created from renewable resources and biodegrade more readily. Making an effort to use those resources and avoid polystyrene ones can help to decrease your environmental impact.