Climate for Action: Choosing an Alternative to Polystyrene

About the Author: Michelle Gugger graduated from Rutgers University in 2008. She is currently spending a year of service at EPA’s Region 3 Office in Philadelphia, PA as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

I remember all throughout school, all the plates and cups in the cafeteria were polystyrene.  For the students, if we were buying lunch we had no choice but to use the polystyrene dishware.  Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t know the negative impacts on the Earth that we were all creating by using these products, or that because polystyrene is non-biodegradable, the dishware that I threw out after lunch would still be floating around in the environment today and continue to do so years from now.

Polystyrene creates waste that just does not go away.  In what ways then do you think polystyrene will impact our environment?  One of the most important ways, I feel, will be the health of our land and water environments.  I’ve already seen polystyrene dishware floating around in streams and in parks.  This is not only ugly to look at, but it’s also dangerous for the animals if they eat it.  In addition to affecting our land and water environments, polystyrene impacts our environment by releasing pollutants into the air.  In 1986, the EPA identified 57 chemical byproducts that were released into the air through its production and many of the pollutants are known to cause serious health effects such as the reduced functioning of the lungs and nervous systems.  Check out Earth’s Resource’s website to learn about the ways polystyrene can affect our health and environment.

So let’s reduce our impact!  Reduce air pollution and the waste in our environment by taking action.  How can you do this?  Can you think of ways to influence your school to change their polystyrene-only policies?  How?  Every year Americans waste enough polystyrene that it could circle the Earth 426 times.  Let’s protect our health and keep our environment clean by reducing this waste—and choose a different alternative to polystyrene.

Editorial Correction: The first version of this blog posting incorrectly used the term styrofoam® instead of polystyrene foam. Comments to the blog also reflect this misuse of the term. The DOW Chemical Company is the owner of several registrations for the trademark Styrofoam® which is used on Dow’s plastic foam insulation and construction products for use in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, and on floral and craft products. The term was incorrectly used in the blog as a generic description of foam products. We regret the mistake and any inconvenience this may have caused.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.