by Hayley Deti – Entertainment Editor
Styrofoam is a widely used everyday product in the U.S., but there are some definite negatives to this convenient product. Styrofoam is a petroleum based plastic made from polystyrene (also used to make gasoline) and has gained popularity because it is lightweight, has good insulation properties, and keeps things safe during the shipping process without adding extra weight.
Styrofoam is praised for its convenience, but ultimately it has an extremely harmful effects on our environment. There are numerous environmental health concerns involved with the use of Styrofoam, starting with the elements that are used to make the material.
One of the elements, styrene, is a foundational ingredient used to create polystyrene. It is used in the manufacture of many resins, rubbers, and plastics, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it is a possible human carcinogen.
People regularly exposed to products made with styrene over long periods of time can experience effects on the nervous system, depression, headaches, fatigue, weakness, and effects on kidney function.
New York’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) determined that expanded polystyrene foam is not recyclable. Furthermore, Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and very light, therefore, it floats. These two factors combined are responsible for the massive amount of polystyrene has gathered along coasts all over the world. Styrofoam is now considered to be the main element of marine debris, and causes the deaths millions of marine animals every year.
So if Styrofoam is so terrible for our environment, why do school systems continue to serve food on Styrofoam trays? According to Cafeteria Culture, in New York City schools alone, 860,000 polystyrene (plastic styrene foam) trays have been used per day for the past 25 years. This adds up to over 3 billion foam trays that are used for 20-30 minutes, and then thrown away, often still perfectly clean. On Jan. 8 2015, Mayor de Blasio’s Administration in New York City banned single-use Styrofoam products that was taken into effect on July 1st, 2015. Food service establishments, manufacturers and stores are now unable to sell, possess or offer single service expanded polystyrene, or polystyrene loose fill packaging (i.e. packing peanuts) in New York City.
If the whole of New York City was able to ban Styrofoam, it must be possible to do the same for Kentlake. “I wish that we had paper trays [or] something that was better for the environment in terms of disposal. I am completely in agreement that we need an alternative to the Styrofoam issue [at our school].” Said principal Dr. Potts. “We may be able to change as a school individually and I think that would be something to explore, and something I’d be interested in, maybe even cost sharing in terms of the difference, because [Styrofoam is] just a disaster for the environment.”
However, the Styrofoam issue cannot be solved so easily. “I don’t think I could do it by myself, […] I think it would be wonderful if our students asked the question and then pursued it. I’d be interested in working with food services to see what alternatives are out there for us,” Potts said. However, cost is a major reason the Kent School District has not been making environmentally conscious decisions concerning food trays.
In order to make a change in our cafeteria, students need to step up and recognize that our Styrofoam trays are an issue, and make an effort to find better alternatives. Only use the trays at lunch if you need it, do not use one because it is available.