The Truth About Styrofoam


I realise that talking about the environment may not be one of those topics that may be appealing to most people, as everyone is busy running around trying to make a living, looking after family, working and trying to stay relevant, alive and sane in this interesting world of ours. I do hope however, that you do take the time to reflect and look after the environment around us, as it is the very one that sustains us in so many ways. We can each do our part in small ways that add up to make an even bigger impact.

Today we can perhaps start by reflecting on how many times we use Styrofoam, talking about it and hopefully using it less as we order our lunch from the supermarkets which use Styrofoam containers, as we order coffee from cafes that use Styrofoam cups, as we buy our fruits and vegetables packed in Styrofoam and as we carry our ‘doggy’ Styrofoam bags from local restaurants…

Instead of me explaining how Styrofoam is bad for the environment, I thought to borrow the letter below written by my mother to a local supermarket, advocating for its removal from the store. In the letter below, it (a) explains why Styrofoam is bad for the environment and (b) also suggests ways in which we can all start reducing its use and also start to slowly get rid of it altogether. Do feel free to replicate the letter, adjust where needed to suit where you are going to send it to and do actively share with those around you and especially to the local stores, restaurants and coffee shops you frequent and who use Styrofoam.

Happy Monday! 

Re: Discontinuing the use of polystyrene foam packaging in your supermarket / restaurant / shop etc

Dear [Owner of store, restaurant etc] 

Despite the appalling commitment to global environmental issues in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, there are still many of us who are committed to environmental sustainability. This commitment requires all of us to change the way we currently do things. As a leader in the consumer market in Zimbabwe I am writing this letter to request that you also be a part of this change by phasing out your use of polystyrene foam (a.k.a “Styrofoam”) packaging within your supermarket. 

Polystyrene foam is unhealthy for our planet in its manufacture, in its use, and in its disposal. 

Its manufacture: The process of making polystyrene pollutes the air and creates large amounts of liquid and solid waste. A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. (Note that manufacturers of polystyrene claim that their products are ‘ozone friendly’ because they now use HCFC-22, which was thought to be less destructive to the ozone than CFCs. 

However, in a report by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, HCFCs are actually three to five times more destructive to the ozone than previously believed.) 

Its use: Toxic chemicals which threaten human health and our reproductive systems leach out of the polystyrene foam and into the food that is stored in it. This is especially true when it is heated up (e.g. your use of polystyrene foam to serve hot consumers hot meals). 

Its disposal: By volume polystyrene takes up between 25-39% of landfill space. In Zimbabwe, where we are currently struggling to dispose of our waste appropriately, polystyrene foam is one of the most common products found on the side of the road. This material does not biodegrade. Instead, it crumbles into small fragments that have NO expiration date. Moreover, the hydrocarbons in polystyrene foam are released as tropospheric ozone when exposed to direct sunlight in the presence of nitrogen. This type of ozone is a serious air pollutant at ground level where exposure can damage lungs and the immune system. 

I believe that it is entirely feasible for [name of supermarket, restaurant etc that uses Styrofoam] to phase this product out of its stores. First you can encourage consumers to select their own fruit and vegetables and not pre-package them. (One of the reasons that I shop at [name of supermarket] is because I can do this.) If you still feel it is important to offer consumers some packaged items, you can switch to recycled plastic. I would imagine that the trucks that bring your goods in from [e.g] South Africa [or any other country goods come from] currently travel back empty. It would be entirely possible to have a bin at your store where consumer could return their plastic containers and you could take them back to [e.g] South Africa [or any other country goods come from] where they may have facilities to recycle them. 

The same is true for your sale of hot meals where recycled plastics can also be used. You could even offer a discount to those consumers that bring in their own plastic containers. 

I would emphasise that in the process of phasing out polystyrene foam, [name of supermarket, restaurant etc] needs to play an equally important educational role. Most Zimbabweans are not exposed to information about environmental pollution. Therefore, central to the shift is your ability to explain to the consumer why you are changing your store policy. Start with a sign in the fruit and vegetable section that explains that as part of [supermarket, restaurant name] commitment to the environment, you are phasing out the use of Styrofoam packaging in your supermarket, restaurant etc. You can easily highlight the negative points that are listed above. Continue by promoting the recycling of plastic containers. Conclude by providing financial incentives to those that bring in their own containers. 

Many thanks for your attention in this matter. I trust that the above information is helpful as you work towards changing your policy. If you would find it helpful to discuss this in more detail, I am happy to meet with you to discuss this further and offer you any assistance that you might require. 

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. 


Call to action: What are we doing in our spaces to protect our environment? Composting instead of throwing cooked food in the bin, using reusable cloth bags as opposed to plastic bags as often as possible when grocery shopping, opting for other options for food containers as opposed to styrofoam, replanting trees when we cut down trees or before we even cut them down, throwing garbage into a bin as opposed to the side of the road, carpooling, etc…there are so many ways to protect and preserve our environment. Let’s share what we are each doing so we can learn from each other. I look forward to hearing from you whether it’s with what you’re going to do with regard to styrofoam, what you are already doing and what you are going to start doing. 


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