Let's Talk About Wasteful Styrofoam Packaging

August 28, 2013

The scientific term is Expanded Polystyrene (or EPS), but you probably know it as styrofoam. At one point in time, every package delivered was filled with little polystyrene packing peanuts. Polystyrene is a plastic that has its uses (for example, it’s used in many CD cases and razors), but I say that our gradual weening off of expanded polystyrene in our packaging is long overdue, and can’t come soon enough. Why you ask? Well, let’s take a look at just a few of the reasons:

  • It’s not biodegradable: The estimates on how long it takes expanded polystyrene to degrade vary wildly depending on who you ask and what the method of decomposition is. Some people say a decade, others say 500 years, and still others say it will take a million or more years. One thing is certain, however—the rate at which we’re putting styrofoam in landfills is much higher than the rate it’s decomposing. The styrofoam you see in packaging is chemically inert and very difficult for organisms to break down naturally.
  • It’s hurting the ocean: Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, there is an area twice the size of Texas made that is filled with garbage—most of it being plastics like expanded polystyrene. Some sections of this area have so much plastic in it, it’s like confetti. Styrofoam floats in  water, and breaks down much faster in the ocean. However, this is not a good thing. Instead of biodegrading, these bits of polystyrene just become smaller particles that are ingested by fish and other wildlife, or end up in tiny pieces that eventually sink and litter the ocean floor.
  • It’s almost never reused: When was the last time you reused a styrofoam plate? Or a packing peanut? Never? Me too. Unlike cardboard boxes or plastic water bottles, styrofoam has very limited reusability. Basically, we spend a lot of money creating thousands upon thousands of tons of expanded polystyrene that will only be used once.
  • It’s difficult to recycle: While it is possible to recycle styrofoam, very few local governments do it. This causes problems for landfills. Since it’s mostly air, styrofoam takes up a lot of space and it ends up just sitting there for literally generations. There are ways to recycle your expanded polystyrene if you’re willing to get a little creative. Just check out this Earth911 article for some helpful ideas.
  • It’s easily replaceable: We’ve seen some of this already with the rise of air pillows in recent use in lieu of packing peanuts. However, there are even better alternatives. I’ve read about biodegradable packing fillers made out of materials like sugarcane, starch, and even popcorn. Our company regularly helps other companies use cardboard padding as opposed to molded styrofoam blocks (See below)

Cardboard Packaging
This will decompose in landfills a lot quicker and is much more likely to be recycled.

Of course, the easiest solution to all of this is to simply make boxes that fit—eliminating the need for nearly all fillers to begin with.

To learn more about how we can reduce packaging waste and what effect that will have on the environment, watch this fun video.

You can also learn more about what On Demand Packaging® can do for you by contacting us.

Expanded Polystyrene/Styrofoam facts.
Some quick facts about Styrofoam

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