Ban Toxic Styrofoam from West Virginia Schools and Hospitals

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A group of passionate West Virginians from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life are rallying in support to ban Styrofoam from being distributed in institutions that feed the most vulnerable communities; schools and hospitals. Doing so in these institutions would prevent these already vulnerable communities from facing even more challenges, such as cancer or neurological damage.  

Polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene), is a petroleum-based plastic used to make a variety of products, many of which are for our everyday convenience.  This includes cups, plates, take-out containers, packing materials, etc. However, Styrofoam's’ harmful effects on human health and the environment far outweigh their conveniences. 

While many forms of plastic are designed for single-use and can be recycled (although according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8.4% is recycled with the rest going to incinerators and landfills), Styrofoam is almost exclusively designed for single-use mostly to hold food and beverages. Because Styrofoam is absorbent, it cannot be thoroughly cleaned to be recycled and is too lightweight to recycle. Depending on the form and type of plastic product, items can take anywhere from a few years to hundreds of years to biodegrade (it is important to note that Styrofoam will never fully biodegrade). Because of its inability to biodegrade, Styrofoam breaks down into microplastics and ends up in waterways. This inevitably leads to human, wildlife, and aquatic life consumption of these microplastics. The consequences of this consumption can already be seen in all human tissues and breast milk sampled, styrene was present.  

The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer both recognize polystyrene as a possible carcinogen. Studies have shown that when food and beverages are served in Styrofoam the toxins can seep out, endangering the consumer.  Because Styrofoam mimics estrogen, it increases the risk of breast cancer.  It also leads to low platelet counts, difficulty sleeping, chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities.  

Sources:

https://www.livescience.com/how-much-plastic-recycling.html - 8.4% plastic recycled

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/you-eat-thousands-of-bits-of-plastic-every-year/  - microplastic consumption

*Posted by Baleigh Epperly MU Sustainability Club President/ Co-founder and Vice Chair on Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Board*