Solo Cups Are Styrofoam?

red solo cup made of polystyrene aka Styrofoam on polluted beach

photo: Metro Waste Authority (mwatoday.com)

From coffee cup lids to straws, cutlery and cups, polystyrene and “Styrofoam” products are everywhere. Even SOLO cups are made of 100% polystyrene plastic—the same plastic that’s in a Dunkin’ Donuts foam coffee cup.

Yes, really.

In honor of #plasticfreejuly, I’m sharing more information about the growing problem of plastic polluting our oceans. And “Styrofoam” is a huge culprit.

Expanded polystyrene foam—often referred to as “Styrofoam”—is just polystyrene plastic, puffed up with air. You can identify polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam by the number “6” on the bottom of a product.

In the United States, Dunkin’ Donuts serves 2.7 million “Styrofoam” coffee cups every day.

Like most plastics, polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam are plastics made from chemicals derived from fossil fuels—in this case styrene and benzene. Styrene is recognized as a known animal carcinogen and found “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program and “probably carcinogenic for humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer; it is also listed as a carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 in 2016.

The EPA ranks polystyrene manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation. These plastics are difficult to recycle and are even banned from many recycling programs because of contamination programs.

Although the plastics industry reports that recycling rates of “Styrofoam” and other polystyrene plastics are increasing, it is not cost effective because expanded polystyrene foam is so lightweight and bulky. In fact, polystyrene “Styrofoam” is one of the most common forms of plastic pollution in the environment.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT STYROFOAM?

It’s simple: Refuse single-use polystyrene and “Styrofoam” products! Yes it’s hard to avoid packaging—check earth911.com to see if you can recycle that—but you can take these steps:

Do you have a strategy for refusing single-use polystyrene and “Styrofoam” products? Tweet me @rachellsarnoff and I’ll include them in a future post!

  1. Avoid restaurants or cafes that serve in “Styrofoam.”
  2. Bring your own cups for coffee and togo container if you know you’ll be bringing home leftovers.
  3. Carry a canteen or reusable cup to a party if you know SOLO cups are served—great conversation starter, btw.
  4. Pack a set of chopsticks or reusable cutlery in your pocket or bag.
  5. Ask the places you frequent to replace polystyrene and “Styrofoam” products with those made from a biodegradable material like paper or at the very least a more benign and recyclable form of plastic.

Finally, make sure your representatives are voting for legislation that helps solve the plastic pollution problem, rather than perpetuating it. For example, in California—now the fifth biggest economy in the world—many legislators have supported a growing movement to ban single-use polystyrene and “Styrofoam” products. An industry-backed, ineffectual polystyrene “recycling” bill AB2921 would have strangled our ability to ban it. A community of activists mobilized and reached out to legislators through phone calls, emails and tweets, and lo and behold the bill was killed.

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