Information About Styrofoam

Written by jessica furgerson
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Information About Styrofoam
The ever versitile styrofoam. (styrofoam business image by robert mobley from

From keeping our drinks cold at the beach, protecting our fragile items during shipping, and even helping keep our boat docks a float, styrofoam continues to be an invaluable material. Considering that Americans alone throw away twenty five billion styrofoam cups a year, knowing more about this prevalent and potentially dangerous material is a must.


In 1941 Dow Industrial Corporation began experimenting with different methods to produce and us polystyrene and subsequently invented styrofoam. Under closer examination, this new form of polystyrene had amazing moisture blocking capabilities and was extremely buoyant. The first successful application of styrofoam came a few years later when the United States Coast Guard began using the substance on their six man life boats. By the middle of World War II, both the Coast Guard and the Navy had fully integrated styrofoam into many of their sea faring vessels.


When Dow first created styrofoam, the idea was to use the extruded polystyrene foam in many of their insulation products. Today the company continues to use styrofoam within their home and business construction materials such as insulation. Styrofoams ability to regulate temperatures well has led to its increased use for food service supplies such as to go boxes, coffee cups, and coolers. Styrofoam also continues to be used for many water related needs such as life boats, life jackets, and boat docks.

Styrene Concerns

After significant research, worries have surfaced over the potential danger of styrene, the primary component in polystyrene foam. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified styrene as a potential carcinogen or cancer causing chemical. Workers who are exposed to styrene are subject to skin and eye irritation, upper respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue and weakness, and lower functioning of the kidneys and blood systems.

Environmental Concerns

In 1986 the United States Environmental Protection Agency labelled the manufacturing process for polystyrene as the fifth largest hazardous waste producer. The production of polystyrene has also been found to release up to fifty seven harsh chemical byproducts into the air. Among the most problematic chemicals released is that of hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons hen released combine with nitrogen oxides to create tropospheric ozone which work to dramatically decrease the air quality in surrounding areas.

Recycling styrofoam

Recycling styrofoam and other polystyrene products still remains very difficult.The existing technology to recycle styrofoam is costly and not widely available, however solutions to exist to avoid landfill contamination. You can contact your local recycling centre to see if they have the technology to recycle your old styrofoam products. When recycled, styrofoam products are commonly made into packing supplies or objects such as cafeteria trays. Products such as Limonene can also be used to partially dissolve styrofoam products and shrink their weight and size to about 1/20 of their original size. If you want to avoid the potential negative effects of styrofoam look for alternatives such as paper packaging.

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