Advantages & Disadvantages of Styrofoam

Chances are, at some point today you have come in contact with styrofoam. Styrofoam is the brand name for polystyrene foam manufactured by Dow chemical company. The product was invented in 1941. Today, styrofoam is used in a wide variety of applications.

Injectable Molded Polystyrene

Styrofoam's ability to be injected into a mould means that it can be used to produce pre-shaped containers for the fast food industry, as well as disposable plates and cups. Syrofoam can also be shaped into containers for keeping beverages cool, or shipping perishable goods packed in ice--or even packing peanuts. In the grocery store, styrofoam can be found in meat trays, egg cartons and other food trays. Styrofoam's flexibility as a pre-moulded object means that it's used for a variety of crafts--from floral foam and blocks to preformed shapes such as balls and blocks for ornaments and dioramas.

Building Applications

Increasingly, styrofoam is used as an insulator between concrete blocks for buildings. Styrofoam is filled with air pockets, lightweight, moisture and mould resistant as well as resistant to rot, and prevents transfer of heat or cold. Due to its lightweight properties, it's also an effective insulator in roofs and slabs. Styrofoam is also used as a pipe insulation or ground flake insulation. Flakes of styrofoam are also mixed into plaster for a texturing medium for painting and plastering applications.

Marine Applications

Shortly after styrofoam was manufactured, the U.S. Coast Guard approved it for use in a six-man life raft. Today, styrofoam is a component for life jackets and flotation devices. Styrofoam's insulating properties and buoyancy mean that it's often used in the construction of boats, as well as floating buildings such as marinas.

Environmental Concerns

Because of the versatility of styrofoam, there has been a long-standing concern that the product does not biodegrade. Although scientists are looking at developing an enzyme to break down styrofoam, the widespread use of polystyrene products in egg cartons and food wrappers leave environmentalists concerned that consumers are burying Earth in styrofoam, one disposable cup at a time. Additionally, styrofoam was once made using Chlorofluorocarbons, which were thought to damage the ozone layer.

Health Concerns

Additionally, physicians are increasingly concerned with the effects of eating from styrofoam containers. According to the article "Clouds in your Coffee," scientists have found that when hot food or beverages are placed in polystyrene containers, the styrene chemicals leech from the containers into your food and then into your body. Over time, this can lead to reproductive issues or even cancer.