A study recently released is putting to rest misconceptions about polystyrene foam products and their impact on the environment. Completed by Franklin Associates for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), the study titled Impact of Plastics Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption & Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the US & Canada Substitution Analysis examined the effects replacing foam packaging with alternatives would have on the environment. When referring to polystyrene foam, many consumers often mistakenly refer to it as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. Polystyrene foam makes up several forms of shipping and packaging materials, and is preferred by most organizations because it is lightweight and more cost-effective than alternatives.
By comparing several factors, such as weight and energy requirements, the study reviewed the impact polystyrene foam packaging currently has on the environment compared to alternatives. The study revealed that using alternative materials would result in at least 4.5 times more packaging weight, which requires more fuel throughout the shipping process. In terms of energy use, the study found that using alternative products would result in an 80% increase. Substituting other types of packaging for foam within the US alone would result in a 130% more potential for global warming impact.
While the study confirms that polystyrene foam packaging is the best option for shipping from an environmental perspective, it also provides the most amenities to the individuals and organizations. Polystyrene foam protects fragile and breakable items through shock absorption during shipping. The material also delivers unique thermal protection, giving consumers and organizations the ability to ship temperature sensitive foods and medicines.
Several U.S. cities and organizations are also recognizing the potential of using polystyrene foam material in packaging and foodservice products, and are taking this notion a step further by implementing foam recycling programs. Polystyrene foam is 100% recyclable, and offered as a curbside collection item in areas throughout the U.S., including 65 cities within California alone. Recycling efforts involve collecting foam items, processing the material so that it is compressed to a fraction of its original size, and then recycling the foam into a material to be used in the production of brand new consumer goods, such as picture frames or crown molding.