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Just say NO to Styrofoam in Savannah by Sabina Cushing

I migrated to The South almost two years ago from relatively progressive San Francisco, California. Aside from the unbelievable summer heat (and those nasty little gnats), one of the first tangible differences that I experienced in Savannah was something I definitely wasn’t accustomed to: People carrying massive quantities of white foam cups and clamshell boxes, unabashedly toting food and drink from almost every eatery in town. In some instances, it served as the only dishware offered by the place. It was just awkward to suddenly see something so prevalent that I’d thought was obsolete. By 2007, officials in my home town had put a ban on polystyrene containers altogether, requiring every vendor to utilize either bio-degradable paper or corn-plastic or recyclable plastic only. But we weren’t the first to stop using the stuff: Back in 1990, even McDonalds’s voluntarily stopped using Styrofoam containers in favor of a less sinister paper carton. Over 100 cities in California have now instituted bans, and other major cities worldwide are realizing the dangerous consequences of styrofoam litter, including Seattle, Toronto and Paris. So, in the interest of progressive logic and the hopes of awakening some of it in our fair city, let’s review some fun Styro-facts: Polystyrene foam (more commonly referred to by its brand name, Styrofoam) was introduced to the American market in 1937 by the Dow Chemical Company as a general insulation material. Manufactured from (non-renewable) petroleum oil, it contained a chemical called chloroflourocarbon (CFC), which was banned in 1987 because it was proven to contribute to the depletion of the planet’s ozone layer. While it no longer contains CFCs, today’s polystyrene foam still remains one of the most environmentally damaging and bio-toxic packaging products on the market. 16 Well FED

Styrofoam is: A direct health hazard. It contains the contaminants benzene and styrene. Benzene exposure has proven serious health risks, including cancer, kidney failure, DNA damage and more. The American Petroleum Institute itself stated in 1948 that “the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” While styrene is considered a weaker toxin, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has described styrene as “a suspected carcinogen” and “a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system.” Research has also found that foam packaging, especially when used with hot/reactive foods, loses weight when in use, which means its chemical components are literally oozing into the foods and drinks we consume. Those then end up stored in our bodies, where they can build up to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) levels. By 1986, an EPA study found styrene in 100% of human fatty tissue samples tested. An environmental poison. While almost nothing breaks down in a landfill, polystyrene practically NEVER breaks down at all (although some sources claim it will—in 500 years). In either case, the chemical contaminants still leach into and poison our groundwater supply. That’s the same water we bathe in, cook with and drink. Perhaps Savannah’s Signature Cocktail should be called “The Backporch Benzene Punch” or a “Polystyrene Sweet Tea Martini”! Not recyclable. Even though some foam is marked as a “#6 recyclable,” most cities— Savannah included— do not process it. Just as well, since there is no real after-market use for it anyway: Polystyrene foam is not a “closed-loop” material, meaning it cannot be used to make more foam packaging. Instead it’s made into items such as cafeteria trays or disposable razors that

Well FED Savannah April 2011  

Feed. Eat. Drink. The area's largest food, dining, and healthy living magazine with the most comprehensive dining and bar guide.

Well FED Savannah April 2011  

Feed. Eat. Drink. The area's largest food, dining, and healthy living magazine with the most comprehensive dining and bar guide.

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