Cheap and lightweight, polystyrene (resin code ♸) is very popular in the food and take-away business for its low cost and insulation properties, particularly after it has been expanded with air bubbles. It is these exact qualities that have also made it one of the most problematic types of plastics when it comes to ocean pollution.

What can I do?

Although many types of products are made from the different forms of polystyrene, Pledge #13 is focusing on expanded polystyrene, or Styrofoam, food containers, plates and cups, as these are some of the most immediately obvious culprits - and some of the easiest items to switch:

  • Support establishments that do not use polystyrene and encourage others to do the same! Ocean Pledge works hard to encourage South African restaurants to move away from Styrofoam and other cheap, hazardous packaging and cutlery alternatives. Always choose to give your hard-earned money to those who are committed to protecting our environment.  
  • If you’re planning on getting a take-away meal - consider bringing your own container (it’s always handy to keep a food container and some reusable cutlery in your car for emergency snacking)! Many restaurants are very accommodating and will allow you to bring your own containers for your take out. All you can do is ask. At worst they can say no, and you can then use that as an opportunity to educate them as to why they should not be using Styrofoam. 
  • Try to eat in rather than ordering take-aways - healthier and cheaper.
  • If you can - recycle any polystyrene that you are able to.
  • If ordering a product online, consider asking the company what they use as packaging material - there are often great alternatives to polystyrene beans, such as bagasse and moulded paper.

Make your pledge a permanent commitment by leaving an Ocean Pledge.

Why does it matter?

There are many reasons to cut your ties with Styrofoam:

  • Because it is so lightweight, expanded polystyrene easily blows out of bins and landfills into the environment.
  • Polystyrene is often contaminated with food waste, which makes it difficult to recycle and can render other recyclable waste, such as paper, useless if they share a bin.
  • Once in the environment, expanded polystyrene crumbles quickly and is a difficult item to pick up at cleanups.
  • Despite its use as a food container, the chemical “styrene” which is the building block of polystyrene, has been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer in humans and appears to be a risk to all organisms.
  • Unlike other plastic industries which use small pellets called nurdles to make products, polystyrene requires the transport of large volumes of liquid styrene, which can and has spilled into the environment and is a hazard.
Polystyrene quickly breaks up into small pieces, making it incredibly difficult to retrieve once it enters the environment. Credit: lynnepet [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Myth-busting: Can polystyrene be recycled?

Despite the common belief that polystyrene cannot be recycled, it actually can be. It’s just that because of its low density, food contamination and low value it is rarely done. However, in South Africa, certain areas do have this option of recycling available, thanks to recycling programmes by Polystyrene SA which can compress it 50x - making it viable to resell. Recycled polystyrene is used to make picture frames, hangers, lightweight building materials, decking and pots. It’s not a bad option if available - but the risks mentioned earlier still apply.

If your plastic has this resin code, you'll need to check if it can actually be recycled locally! Credit: Heartlover1717 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Who can I follow?

One Capetonian woman has invented remarkable edible bowls. You can now eat your way to plastic freedom!

Take the 28 Day Challenge! Make your Ocean Pledge!

This post is part of the #28DayOceanPledgeChallenge! You can find the other 27 posts and challenges on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, or by signing up for the Challenge newsletter below to receive one challenge a day for 28 days: