Home insulation, pens, and interior molding are just a few products polystyrene foam can be recycled into if properly handled after disposal. The question, of course, is how polystyrene foam can be handled “properly.” Some concerned elected officials mistakenly believe that proper handling involves banning the material.
Recently, London Breed, who currently sits on the San Francisco board of Supervisors representing District 5, introduced a bill that will create the most extensive ban on polystyrene foam in the country, ultimately prohibiting polystyrene foam products such as packing materials, ice chests, and pool toys.
Breed claims polystyrene foam is a product that should not be used because of its environmental risks; however, polystyrene foam has many benefits and, if properly disposed of, does not harm the environment.
Foam is lightweight, inexpensive and abundant, and is used to ship products ranging from flowers to medicines. Moreover, polystyrene foam is completely recyclable where facilities exist. The perception of foam is mostly driven by the highly visible littering that occurs, especially with foodservice packaging foam. However, foam produces less solid waste by weight and volume than average-weight paper cups containing a sleeve.
Banning foam is not an effective way to handle or reduce the amount of litter in an area. It just forces companies to use alternate products like cardboard or plastic-coated paper cups, which if improperly disposed of will also cause litter. In addition, many alternatives to foam such as plastic-lined paper cups are more harmful to the environment when they are considered across the life cycle of the product from manufacture to use to disposal.
In sum, banning foam creates more problems than it solves. Small businesses can’t afford the alternatives, which in most cases lead to greater waste. Foam, on the other hand, is recyclable and avoids the negative financial impact on the community and the environment.