To the dismay of recycling supporters, the township of Williamstown, Massachusetts, is considering a ban of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers. This misguided plan comes from Massachusetts Greening that believes that polystyrene foam is a non-recyclable product that poses a health risk to consumers. Not only does it hope to ban polystyrene, it plans to terminate the use of plastic silverware and bags as well.
Massachusetts Greening’s allegations concerning foam could not be further from the truth. Millions of pounds of EPS foam are recycled weekly across the United States. Recycled foam is made into consumer goods that are used every day such as DVD cases, picture frames, toys, glue, building materials and office supplies. Currently there are five centers in Massachusetts that offer foam recycling.
In response to health concerns, polystyrene foam has been used safely for years. Unfortunately, misinformation has led to proposed foam bans that have a negative economic effect on jobs and small businesses. Much of the confusion surrounding the safety of foam is a result of the lack of distinction between styrene and the finished product that is polystyrene foam.
Styrene is a liquid derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts and helps to create materials that are the building blocks of cars, boats, and computers as well as medical, health, and safety equipment. Styrene is a naturally occurring substance, and it is also found in many of our foods including wheat, beef, and strawberries.
Polystyrene is a solid plastic made from polymerized styrene and is often used in applications where hygiene is important, such as health care and foodservice products. In the United States, polystyrene meets stringent FDA standards for use in food packaging and is safe for consumers, and health organizations encourage the use of single-use polystyrene foam food containers because they provide greater food safety.
Furthermore, since this ban only covers foodservice foam, other EPS foam products used by residents will still be landfilled. A proposed resolution to discontinue the use of foam in the township will only delay the institution of understanding of a foam recycling system, while not having any legislative effect. There is also an issue with regulation. The town doesn’t have the authority to tax, so any penalty for using foam or other banned products could create a laundry list of legal hurtles.
Leaders in Williamstown are oscillating between the institution of a full ban or a resolution– a method of socially encouraging the non-usage of these items. However, the alternative of foam recycling is economically feasible and a better option for business owners in the area who do not want further regulation.The hope for Williamstown is that they become educated on the benefits of polystyrene recycling. Implementing a foam recycling program is not only an environmentally responsible alternative, it is the option that is the best for the small businesses in Massachusetts.