Toxic Take-Out: Styrofoam Boxes, Food & Cancer

We’ve posted a tip about styrofoam, but I wanted to reiterate the importance of getting styrofoam out of your life.  Styrofoam is not only bad for the environment, but it’s bad for you.

Styrofoam is hazardous to human health.  It contains the neurotoxins styrene and benzene, which are widely accepted to be carcinogens. These toxins can leach into food that’s acidic, warm, alcoholic or oily and into the environment after exposure to rain and other weather.  This means that it’s critical that you don’t microwave food in styrofoam or put hot food into styrofoam containers.  Out of an abundance of caution, you shouldn’t eat from styrofoam at all.

Ask restaurants to wrap any leftovers in foil or if you are super organized, bring your own container.  Don’t be afraid to educate restaurateurs about the health and environmental hazards associated with styrofoam.  There are great alternatives out there, such as sugar cane based products, recycled paper products and corn based products.  For packing peanuts, there are now biodegradable  corn starch based packing peanuts that dissolve in water.

In 2006, 1,460,000 tons of polystyrene foam were deposited in landfills in the United States.  Also known as Styrofoam, polystyrene foam is the worst of the packaging offenders. It’s made of non-renewable petroleum and once manufactured, it’s not biodegradable.  As soon as polystyrene is contaminated by food (like crumbs or grease from your french fries) it is no longer recyclable, and very few recycling facilities accept it even when it’s clean.

Many cities, like Portland, San Francisco and Freeport, Maine, have banned polystyrene both because of the threats it poses to human and environmental health and because it can choke wildlife when swallowed.  You might be interested to note that this year, when Congress changed from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority, the coffee cups were switched from an eco-friendly paper back to, you guessed it, styrofoam.   Needless to say they also switched the compostable corn based utensils back to plastic.  They claimed cost savings and that everyone was frustrated with the inability to use the other products.  I claim that they must be morons if they can’t figure out how to use utensils and cups.  Oh, wait, maybe I’m on to something.

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8 Responses to Toxic Take-Out: Styrofoam Boxes, Food & Cancer

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  5. Tara says:

    Not that I’m a fan of styrofoam, but I’d like to see some references or studies backing up your claims that the components that make up styrofoam can be leached out into foods or liquids just from typical use.

  6. Katie Noble says:

    Here is the link to the source actually studying the transfer of styrene.
    There are some older studies indicating that the breakdown of styrofoam when heated gives off negligible amounts of styrene, but they don’t indicate which other chemicals are released when styrofoam is broken down. I know polystyrene foam releases 57 different toxins when incinerated.
    The bottom line is that even if styrene naturally occurs in foods such as cinnamon, beer, beef, we don’t know how our bodies metabolize naturally occurring styrene versus manmade. Styrene was recently added to the list of known carcinogens, so it seems logical to limit our exposure to this chemical.

  7. Pingback: Boohooing Over the Nanny State – NYC Proposed Ban on Polystyrene Cups & Containers | The Green Life

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