Facts vs. Politics: The Real Foam Story

April 29, 2015

In today’s world, foam cups and food containers get a bad reputation. Foam, or expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, is such a large part of our daily lives that we may not even think about its utility. Foam keeps our food safe, insulates our morning coffee, and provides protection when we ship our belongings across the country. Further, foam is recyclable and economical; so why is there so much negative information swirling around a product that does so much for us? The answer: misinformed politics.

In reality, foam cups and food containers provide us daily insurance that our hot things stay hot, and our cold things stay cold. If consumers don’t receive these benefits, or more importantly, don’t understand them, they grab onto any political message without really examining the facts. The truth is that EPS foam is environmentally sound, recyclable and safe.

Polystyrene foam containers consume less energy to manufacture than paper containers, have lower atmospheric emissions, and contribute fewer waterborne wastes than bleached paper products. In fact, foam foodservice products make up less than 1% by both weight and volume of our landfill waste. Most consumers don’t realize that more paper cups end up in landfills than foam cups.

EPS foam can be recycled. Recycled foam foodservice products can be reprocessed into building insulation, surfboards, DVD cases, plastic lumber, and many other products. Dart Container, a leader in foam manufacturing, also is leading the charge in the recycling effort. In fact, Dart recycles enough foam each year to generate energy to heat over 105,000 homes.

As for concerns about the safe use of the product, polystyrene foam has been used safely for years. Much of the confusion surrounding the safety deals with the misunderstanding between styrene and the finished product that is polystyrene foam.  Styrene is a liquid used to make polystyrene, which is a solid plastic. There is no risk present when styrene is a finished product in a solid state. In addition, styrene is naturally occurring and can be found in many of the foods we eat everyday such as beef, coffee, and cinnamon.

In all areas of life, it is important to be armed with the facts before falling prey to political messages. The foam packaging story is no exception. It is time we reform the way we see foam and start thinking of the benefits of the product instead of focusing on misinformation used to advance an anti-foam agenda.