Recent reports that the ever progressive state of California in the US is about to ban the use of polystyrene plastic is a welcome news for many environmentalists and enlightened citizens, knowing well about the darker side of this fossil fuel based product. While expanded polystyrene is extensively used for packing foods or as disposable containers, extruded polystyrene is the most popular insulation material being a bad conductor of heat. Being made from petroleum chemicals its safety for food contact applications is questionable while it has very poor biodegradability credentials. It is worth emulating the US in abolishing polystyrene which has many natural alternatives.
"Expanded polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, is a lightweight plastic that, when littered, is often carried from streets through storm drains into the ocean. It accounts for 15% of storm drain litter, according to the California Department of Transportation. It is the second-most-common type of beach debris, according to a study by the Southern California Coastal Water Quality Research Project. Fifty California jurisdictions have already banned foam takeout food packaging, including Huntington Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and Ventura County. "There are all these jurisdictions in California that have to control trash and reduce their discharges of trash to waterways, and they're having a hard time complying because foam litter is so hard to control. That's the reason for this bill," said Miriam Gordon, state director of Clean Water Action, a national advocacy group that sponsored SB 568".
One is justified in getting scared using polystyrene, especially for food contact applications, considering that it is suspected to be linked to neural damage and cancer. It is unfortunate that millions of people who use polystyrene disposable cups and plates are totally unaware of the dangers lurking behind this plastic material. Take out dinners and frozen meals are invariably packed in polystyrene containers, ready for nuking in microwave oven and how much "leachate" emerges at higher temperatures is still not certain. Polystyrene, like any other plastics, can be recycled but the needed facilities are far and few.