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How is Styrofoam harmful to the environment?

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Quick Answer

Styrofoam is harmful to the environment due to its long decomposition period, which causes a large build-up of debris and environmental disruption, and its role as an irritant and potential carcinogen due to its petroleum-based composition. Polystyrene, the main component of Styrofoam, is not a sustainable or renewable resource. Chronic exposure to Styrofoam in humans results in complications of the nervous system, such as headaches, fatigue, depression and weakness.

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Styrofoam is very lightweight and is not often recycled because it is not economically viable to transport and wash. It is often contaminated by food and grease, which make it non-recyclable without substantial washing. Because of this fact, Styrofoam has become a main component of litter and marine debris. Many major waterways have large Styrofoam accumulations that clog them and cause a negative impact on marine life. Animals choke on Styrofoam litter and starve due to their inability to receive and process nutrients.

Production of Styrofoam is very energy-intensive and creates large amounts of greenhouse gases. Hydrofluorocarbons used to produce Styrofoam are released into the air and cause damage to the ozone layer. The California Integrated Waste Management Board ranked Styrofoam as the second-worst production item in terms of environmental cost.

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