We are in the middle of winter when more northern and eastern winds blow. As the wind subsides, the sea is calm, but always filled with all sorts of trash that the waves have carried.Most of them are plastic with styrofoam being the dominant!
Small or larger pieces of styrofoam, most of which are from fish containers, cups and food packaging. They float in the water, spin on the rocks, break in smaller pieces and wash on the beach. So we get gloves and nets and go fishing.
Having filled whole bags with styrofoam, the following problem arose: throw them into the simple or the recycle bin? The answer was quickly found: Styrofoam is not accepted in the blue recycling bins. But other questions were also born, so by searching a little on the internet we learned a lot of interesting things.
What is EPS foam or Styrofoam?
EPS stands for expanded polystyrene foam. As its name suggests its raw material is styrene and is produced by polymerisation (many molecules) of styrene. It is converted into foam by blowing pentane gas. It is also called styrofoam - the trademark of the Dow Chemical Company which first introduced Styrofoam products to the US in 1954.
Is it safe;
How harmful EPS foam is for the environment, is easily understood. Various pieces of cups, food tray, box packaging, made of EPS are everywhere around us!
Of course, optical pollution, probably is the smallest evil. EPS foam lives for hundreds – if not for thousands of years and it remains where it was thrown or where it was transported by wind and waves. It can easily end up in stomachs of birds or marine animals, leading to their death.
However, neither for humans we are sure that is safe. It is usual practice that the chemical substances, first to circulate and be widely used and then, when is proven to be harmful, to withdraw or to prohibit their production.
So although polystyrene is considered safe, its raw materials, styrene and pentane are highly toxic for humans and environment. There are already reports that harmful substances (residues of raw materials) can be transferred from the packaging to our food and beverages. (Food in Styrofoam containers can be contaminated by chemicals that leach into the food, affecting human health and the reproductive systems) Long-term exposure to styrene has been shown to result in neurotoxic, haematological, cytological and cancer problems.
So it is not unlikely, in the coming years to ban its use, at least for the transport of food.
EPS is for good in our lives
Since the 1940s, when EPS was first released , its production increased dramatically. It is a dominant plastic in the food packaging industry but is also widely used in construction, insulation etc
EPS foam is manufactured and / or imported into the European Economic Area in 1 000 000 to 10 000 000 tonnes per year! Given the density of polystyrene foam is 28-45 kg/m^3, this translates to a polystyrene cube with dimentions 2.8 - 34 million meters each side!!! Just in the European Economic Area !!!
However, despite its widespread use and its huge production, Polystyrene is Non-Biodegradable, is usually not collected separately and thus not recycled. PS is too light and too voluminous to constitute a valuable waste stream, it’s too cheap to produce, so there is no need to invest in recycling. But this is against the cyclical economy and the principles of sustainability that our era demands ... Besides, we are talking about petroleum based products, which due to the climate change should have already become past.
Is there an alternative?
Yes! Now there is! Perhaps it’s sounds strange, but we can replace EPS foam and other types of plastic with new materials that are already available and have as raw materials mushrooms, seaweeds, bamboo, industrial cannabis and farm waste among others! Don't you think that it's time?