The water is filled with blue green algae beneath our canoe. Dead fish float on either side of us. Soda cans and styrofoam take-out containers bob up and down hitting our boat. A plastic bag gets stuck on my canoe paddle. If we fall in it's not drowning we have to worry about, but the horrible sickness we would get from swallowing a tiny sip of the toxic water. This was the exact situation I was in for my canoe trip. This is the problem of pollution in play. And this is something that needs to change.
Dear restaurant owners,
Hi! My name is Ana. I am a 9th grader at Madison East High School. I live in your neighborhood and order at your restaurant once a week. My dad and I love your food so much that we always order extra for leftovers. However I can’t help but notice that the styrofoam take-out containers I picked out of the river are the same type used at your restaurant. Pollution is a huge and extremely overwhelming issue, but in order to change things we have to find a starting place. Big changes start with small actions. Which means you can be part of the change!
Styrofoam is widely known to be a problematic substance and a danger to humans, animals, and the environment, yet it is still mass produced around the world. One of the reasons polystyrene products (products made out of styrene, a chemical) are so threatening is because they take forever to decompose (it’s actually around 500 hundred years, but still a really long time!) and guess what? Styrene just so happens to be toxic.
A 2014 National Toxicological Program report categorizes styrene (a component in styrofoam) as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" which means it is linked to the development of leukemia and lymphoma cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) report on styrene has not labelled it as carcinogenic (something that causes cancer). However it says people who are regularly exposed to factories where styrofoam is produced often experience adverse effects on the nervous system, respiratory system, and possibly the liver and kidney as well. In addition food in Styrofoam containers can absorb chemicals that effect human health and specifically the reproductive systems.
Ok so that's why styrofoam is bad for humans, but what about animals? We all have experienced how fragile and breakable styrofoam is. When it has broken into small pieces, both land and aquatic animals don’t realize what the substance is and think it is food, eat it and die due to toxins or blockage of their stomachs. It is not only bad for animals but also humans who eat those animals. According to USA TODAY the average person ingests one credit card of plastic a week.
Now why is it bad for the environment? Well did you know that according to this Scientific American article, in 2014 90% of the 28,500 tons of Styrofoam made was used for single-use cups, trays, containers and packaging products? That is a whole lot of styrofoam considering that it is a very lightweight substance and would take a lot of containers to reach 28,500 tons in weight. Now think about how it will take all of that styrofoam 500 hundred years to decompose. Yes, it can be recycled, but in many communities, people are told that their recycling companies will not accept polystyrene products. Furthermore the processing of styrene to styrofoam contributes to poor air quality which is extremely detrimental for the environment.
There I go using that word again ‘environment’, but it is not just trees and oceans that are affected. Everything on this earth is part of ‘the environment’; everything is part of a chain of dominos when one falls and all of the others fall with it. It only takes a spark to start a wildfire. When we pollute the environment we are really polluting ourselves and that way of living is not sustainable in the long run.
How can we help? To make eco-friendly choices to eliminate the use of Styrofoam, look for products manufactured from renewable resources, containing biodegradable materials, or products that are easily recycled. The unfortunate thing about environmentally safe products is they tend to be more expensive, however there are some materials that aren’t quite so much. Aluminum is the least expensive option, it is recyclable and it has good grease and liquid control in addition it has a high heat tolerance. Polyethylene (PET) is slightly more expensive. It is a clear plastic and widely accepted for recycling however it does not have a high heat tolerance. These are just a few materials that you can use. There are many more options out there. Any of which could take one step in the direction of changing the world.
Like I said, big changes start with small actions and substituting your styrofoam take-out containers with containers made from recycled materials or using recyclable containers is a small action that can have a big impact. So thank you! And thank you for listening.