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If you go to my local beach club and order a sandwich or a hamburger and fries, your meal is going to come in a Styrofoam clamshell box. Up until this year, all the cups were Styrofoam, too.

We hold a member meeting once a month. This past spring someone stood up and questioned why we were using Styrofoam given the fact that it is so SO terrible for the environment. I will quote from yesterday’s Daily Green story, The 6 Least Green Types of Packaging: “…polystyrene foam is the worst of the packaging offenders. It’s made of non-renewable petroleum and once manufactured, it’s not biodegradable. As soon as polystyrene is contaminated by food (like crumbs or grease from your french fries) it is no longer recyclable, and very few recycling facilities accept it even when it’s clean. Polystyrene is also hazardous to human health. It contains the neurotoxins styrene and benzene, which are widely accepted to be carcinogens. These toxins can leach into food that’s acidic, warm, alcoholic or oily and into the environment after exposure to rain and other weather.

The question sparked much debate. There were people who were passionately for the change from Styrofoam to paper. There were people against it, too. After some discussion, the club’s board promised to take the issue up with the catering vendor. They did and were told that switching from Styrofoam to paper would cost more. A lot more. Still, we, the environmentally-conscious of the club, won on the cup issue. It was an easy swap, and it didn’t even end up costing the members a dime. (I guess the markup on soda is pretty high, so the vendor ate the difference.)

We didn’t fare as well when it came to the Styrofoam clamshell food boxes. The consensus from the board was that people didn’t like having their french fries and chicken nuggets “blowing in the wind.” They wanted to eat hot food, and also be able to bring it on their boats without worrying about spillage. They also didn’t want to pay the $.25 or $.50 it was going to cost to switch to a paper to compostable alternative. Harumph. And blech.

I was so angry, and was going to fight the decision at the next meeting. However, at the time I was asked by my husband to please let the issue drop. He loves and supports me and my causes — and puts up with my composting, my insane recycling and my commitment to buying local and organic — but he didn’t want me to get a bad reputation at the club. He didn’t want his wife to become known as the rabble-rouser. (Which is sort of a joke since everyone knows who I am and what I do since I wear my heart and issues on my sleeve.) So I dropped it.

Now, however, as more research comes out about the environmental and human dangers of Styrofoam, and the more I see those Styrofoam clamshells getting thrown away, the angrier I get. Just the process exasperates me. Someone orders a food item. It gets poured into the container and sits in it for maybe ten minutes max. And then that big, white Styrofoam container gets tossed into the garbage forever. Yes, FOREVER. No chance of recycling. No chance of reusing. No chance of biodegrading. How is that right?

As The Daily Green points out there are plenty of cities like Portland, San Francisco and Freeport, Maine that have banned the nasty stuff, and plenty more like Chicago and Edmonds, Wash. have it on their to-do lists. Why shouldn’t we, as a beach community do the same? So despite my promise to my husband to keep my mouth shut, I just can’t do it anymore. I’m going to my next member meeting with printed materials to hand out and a single question: Isn’t our environment worth a quarter? I think it is, especially since there are plenty of great renewable and compostable alternatives out there. If and when I can help get the change made, I’m going to move onto my local politicians and ask them the same questions. To me, it’s pretty clear: Long Island should be taking a page from cities like Portland and San Francisco and banning Styrofoam here, too.

Does your town have a plastic or Styrofoam ban in place? Are they considering one? How do you feel about the subject? BTW: NaturalAsPossibleMom.com has a Facebook page. Come check it out!

3 Responses to “Styrofoam and Beaches Don’t Mix”

  1. Priscilla says:

    No regulatory agency anywhere in the world considers styrene to be a human carcinogen and the evolving science is pointing away from a cancer concern for styrene. American consumers are not exposed to levels of styrene via any environmental pathway that represent a health concern. This includes the minute amounts that may be found in food from polystyrene containers or that people breathe since styrene is among many products found in smoke from combustion. Simply because a substance may be found in peoples’ blood at very low levels does not mean that substance is harmful.

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC (www.styrene.org) is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene. SIRC has sponsored approximately $20 million dollars in research over nearly 25 years to better understand the potential, if any, effects styrene may have on human health and the environment.

  2. kb says:

    I respect your opinion, which is why I have approved the comment. But it is your opinion. There have been numerous studies calling for more research into the health effects of Styrene.

    I also notice that you can’t dispute the environmental issue: Styrene can’t biodegrade. It is one of the main things that washes up on land in China, for example.

    I stand by this post. It should be banned for use in all single-use containers.

  3. MarthaAndMe says:

    Thanks for calling my attention to this issue. I’m at the point where I am questioning all artificial manmade products. 10 years ago no one was worried about BPA (ok, some people were, but almost no one knew about it). I think we are still discovering the dangers we’ve created and I am all for products that can be recycled. It is horrifying that styrofoam is not and I never considered it!

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