If you’ve been to the beach, you’re familiar with the joys of beach food – all the way from shaved ice raspados in Mexico to fish and chips in England. And in many cases these treats come bundled up in plastic. A particularly prevalent example is the takeaway container or cup made from foamed white polystyrene (often referred to as styrofoam).
Foamed polystyrene is a type of plastic that when puffed with air is lightweight, buoyant, water resistant and a good insulator. These properties also make foamed polystyrene a go-to choice for filling bean bags, insulating housing and turning into blocks or nuggets for use as protective packaging for products in transit. While foamed polystyrene can hold a rigid shape, it also easily crumbles back into smaller individual pieces.
Unfortunately, foamed polystyrene’s light weight, popularity and potential to rapidly disintegrate also make it a common form of plastic pollution – whether carried away on the wind, by the rain or by a sneaky seagull lured by the smell of fish and chips, foamed polystyrene frequently finds its way into the ocean. Like practically all plastics, foamed polystyrene takes so long to truly biodegrade that it is classed as not biodegradable. Instead, once it is in the ocean, the churning waves and beating sun weather it back down into bite-size pieces more easily than is the case with other plastics.