Like cotton fabrics or hard plastics, styrofoam is a part of daily life for most people. Styrofoam was invented in 1941 and is manufactured by the Dow Chemical Company. Its generic twin is polystyrene foam. This material is used in everything from disposable cups to home insulation. Yet because other materials are equally common, the advantages of using styrofoam may not be immediately clear.
Styrofoam can be shaped into almost anything using injectable moulding manufacturing methods. It's also a cheap material to fabricate, so it's perfect for items meant to be disposed of after a single use, like fast food and beverage containers, notes the American Chemistry Council. Because it's filled with air bubbles, the material can be easily compacted so that it takes up a minimal amount of space in landfills when compared to other disposable materials designed for single use, notes the ACC on its website.
In addition to shapes created through injectable moulding manufacturing, styrofoam often comes in thick blocks, balls or thin paperlike sheets that can be manipulated in many ways. For this reason, styrofoam is a popular material for arts and crafts enthusiasts.
Styrofoam is commonly used as a packing material because of its ability to absorb shock. For instance, eggs from the grocery store often come in thin styrofoam cartons. And those packing peanuts and translucent wrapping paper used to pack fragile items during moves are made of the material as well.
Styrofoam is often used to insulate homes and other buildings because it's lightweight and resistant to moisture and mould, yet it prevents the transfer of heat and cold, notes Dow on its website. That means that the temperature achieved indoors stays in and the undesirable weather from outdoors stays out. The fact that styrofoam is cheap makes it a sensible choice for building insulation, where a lot of material is needed.
Styrofoam floats very well, notes Marine Foam on its website. It is often a major building material for life rafts, canoes and kayaks. Many life jackets also use styrofoam to provide buoyancy. Additionally, marinas, boats and boat homes often employ this as a building material to ensure that these structures stay above water. Because styrofoam is not biodegradable, it's a durable building material for structures that must withstand harsh seawater for indeterminate periods of time.