There is a surprising amount of misinformation in circulation about polystyrene foodservice packaging, considering what a simple and common product it is.
Dart has never used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in manufacturing molded foam cups. CFCs are known to harm the earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. Polystyrene foam foodservice products are not manufactured with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or any other ozone-depleting chemicals.[i]
When polystyrene foam packaging is produced, a “blowing” or “expansion” agent is used in the process. Polystyrene foam products are now manufactured primarily using two types of blowing agents:
1. Pentane – it has no effect on the upper ozone layer, although, if not recovered, it can contribute to low-level smog formation. Most Dart plants recapture and reuse a substantial portion of the pentane released in the pre-production processes as fuel.
2. Carbon dioxide (CO2) – it is non-toxic, non-flammable, and does not contribute to low-level smog, nor does it deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. The use of this blowing agent technology by Dart does not increase the net levels of CO2 in the atmosphere by using existing commercial and natural sources.
Styrene is a clear, colorless liquid that is used in everything from food containers and packaging materials to cars, boats, and computers, medical, health, and safety equipment, and even video games. Derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts, styrene helps create thousands of remarkably strong, flexible, and light-weight products, representing a vital part of our health and well-being.
A naturally occurring substance, styrene is present in many foods and beverages, including wheat, beef, strawberries, peanuts, coffee beans and cinnamon. [ii]
The graph below shows levels of naturally occurring styrene in selected foods as compared with styrene that migrates from a polystyrene foam cup. In the final analysis, all credible research indicates that it is safe for people to consume cinnamon, beef, coffee beans, peanuts, wheat, and strawberries and use polystyrene foam foodservice containers.[iii]
Polystyrene has been used safely for decades in food contact applications with no scientific evidence that it causes human health problems, such as cancer. Unfortunately, much misinformation is disseminated about styrene, a building block of polystyrene, and whether it is safe to use. Some people confuse styrene, which is a liquid, with polystyrene, which is a solid plastic made from polymerized styrene. Styrene and polystyrene are fundamentally different. Polystyrene is inert and has no smell of styrene. Polystyrene often is used in applications where hygiene is important, such as health care and food service products. [iv]
Polystyrene meets stringent U.S. FDA standards for use in food contact packaging and is safe for consumers. Health organizations encourage the use of single-use polystyrene food service products because they provide increased food safety.
Regarding human health, in an important decision made in 1994 after an exhaustive assessment of styrene’s possible health and environmental effects, the government agencies Health Canada and Environment Canada the combination of toxic properties and the amount of styrene in the environment is not enough to regulate it as a toxic chemical. Health Canada found that styrene “does not constitute a danger to human life and health” and “does not constitute a danger to the environment on which human life depends.” According to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) report A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Potential Health Risks Associated with Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Styrene, which was published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Volume 5, Number 1-2 (Part B: Critical Reviews), January-June 2002, “[t]he margins of exposure estimated for oral exposure to styrene from food, whether naturally occurring or as a result of migration from food packaging or other food contact items, indicate that risks are quite low and of no concern.” In June 2011, Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, responding to public concerns about styrene used to manufacture foam foodservice products, wrote, “I see no problems with Styrofoam [sic] cups.” Dr. Linda Birnbaum of the National Toxicology Program, referring to the cancer risk from styrene, wrote that “In finished products, certainly styrene is not an issue.”
Styrene Information Research Center (SIRC) has invested many years of effort, and nearly $12 million in research funding, to develop the most thorough and accurate information about possible cancer effects resulting from styrene exposure. The results of extensive health studies of workers in styrene-related industries collectively show that exposure to styrene does not increase the risk of developing cancer, or any other health effect. For more information on styrene and foam, visit YouKnowStyrene.org.
Dart does not intentionally use or incorporate materials made from or containing BPA. BPA is a chemical building block used to make polycarbonate and epoxy resins. Dart does not manufacture items from these polymer families. [v]
[i] Alexander, Judd H. In Defense of Garbage. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993. 55.
[ii] See: FDA’s Food Additive Regulation at 21 CFR 172.515
[iii] Kelly Puente, Recyclable Foam Trays a Cure for Long Beach Schools’ Headache, Press-Telegram, May 19, 2011, available at http://www.presstelegram.com/ci_18100171?source=rv.
[iv] “Disposables versus Reusables: A Study of Comparative Sanitary Quality.” Dairy Food and Sanitation. January 1985.
[v] Dart relies on certifications or information provided by component materials suppliers and/or basic knowledge of our manufacturing processes and materials.