Foam Products FAQ

 
1. What is “Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam? Expanded POLYSTYRENE (EPS) foam is a petroleum-based plastic product typically used for cheap, disposable food ware (cups, plates, ‘clamshells’, etc) and packing products.  EPS foam is made by adding a blowing agent to a material called polystyrene, a petroleum based plastic.  Maui County’s proposed ban would prohibit disposable food containers made from polystyrene. 
 
2. What is the difference between EPS foam and STYROFOAM?  While the names are often used interchangeably, EPS and STYROFOAM are two different materials.  STYROFOAM is a trademarked product made by Dow Chemical and used primarily building materials such as insulation.  In fact, real STYROFOAM is usually blue.  EPS foam, on the other hand, is the correct term for any foam takeout ware or other EPS foam product not manufactured by Dow. 
 
3. What kind of foam would the Maui County bill ban? Maui County’s proposed ban would prohibit disposable food containers made from polystyrene.
 
4. Can you recycle polystyrene? Polystyrene products carry the recycling #6.  However, if polystyrene products are contaminated by food, they are not recyclable. Even the polystyrene products used for protection during shipping are hard to recycle, due to their low scrap value and the lack of recycling facilities able to process them.  Unfortunately, Maui County does not recycle polystyrene. 
 
5. Will polystyrene break down? No.  Most polystyrene products are made for single use, yet persist in the environment for hundreds or thousands of years. Just like other plastics, when polystyrene products enter the waterways from urban runoff or litter, they break down into small, non-biodegradable parts.
 
6. How can polystyrene harm the environment?  Small bits of polystyrene are accidentally ingested by marine life, filling their stomachs with a false sense of satiation and leaching dangerous chemicals into their bodies. 
 
7. Is it dangerous to me? Most likely, yes.  Polystyrene emits harmful chemicals such as Styrene and Benzene into the food that has been packaged in such containers.   The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists polystyrene as a substance “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen” and doctors “urge caution” when using the chemical styrene. The chemical can leach into food from containers holding hot foods or beverages.  According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 100% of Americans have styrene in their bodies.
 
8. Do other cities ban polystyrene? Yes, it is becoming more and more unwelcome in cities across the country. New York City has banned not only food containers made from polystyrene, but also packing materials made from it. There have already been laws passed banning the use of polystyrene food containers in Portland, OR, Albany, NY, San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA and Amherst, MA. Other cities like Chicago, IL and Washington, D.C. are also proposing bans on food containers made of the substance.
 
9. How is polystyrene linked to damage in the ozone layer? Chlorofluorocarbons (also known as CFCs) are known to be damaging to the ozone layer, and had previously been used as a blowing agent to produce polystyrene packaging.  Now, “more ozone friendly” HCFCs are used, but these are also greenhouse gases and still harmful to the ozone layer.
 
10. What are the alternatives to polystyrene? Compostable products are a simple alternative to polystyrene.  Compostable products are non-toxic, plant-based and eco-friendly alternatives to EPS foam.  The resources and energy to make 1 EPS foam container could make 3 compostable containers.