Properties of Styrofoam Cups

Updated April 17, 2017

Styrofoam cups are made out of polystyrene. Styrofoam is a type of plastic trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company. Cheap and convenient, styrofoam cups are a popular choice to keep every cup of coffee hot. Unfortunately, health concerns are associated with the polystyrene material.


Polystyrene material is considerably cheaper than disposable paper products. This allows them to be easily accessible to any business's budget.

Lightweight and strong

Polystyrene cups have a low density, making them lightweight and easy to carry. Polystyrene's high tensile strength allows it to be resistant to cracking.


A problem with styrofoam cups is that the styrene can leach into beverages and get ingested into consumer's bodies. The amount of leaching depends on the type of food or beverage it holds. Food and drink with a high fat or acidic content will have a higher leaching rate. Examples include chilli, alcohol or a tea with lemon.


Polystyrene is a potential human carcinogen. It contains trace amounts of other toxins, such as styrene, benzene, and bisphenol A.

Health effects

Studies show that styrene mimics oestrogen in the body and disrupts endocrine functions. Long-term exposure to small quantities of styrene may lead to a number of health issues, including thyroid problems, menstrual irregularities, developmental and neurological problems and even cancer.

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About the Author

Ellice Lin graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. She continued her education and earned a master's degree from Rice University. She is an environmental consultant writing air quality reports in Southern California.