A walk along the beach is a favourite way to connect with nature and, ideally, offers the opportunity to escape the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Unfortunately, most of us lucky enough to have access to the coast are conscious of the remains of that everyday life being dragged ashore with each tide, and one particular kind often stands out: the white snow of broken-up polystyrene.
Foamed polystyrene (or styrofoam) is one of the most common components of marine litter found floating at sea or washed up along coastlines. Not just a popular choice for many kinds of packaging and insulation on land, polystyrene also has a variety of maritime use in ports, marinas, aquaculture, fisheries, and leisure activities. But foamed polystyrene never fully biodegrades, and can be a serious threat to ocean life as it crumbles into thousands of puffed fragments in the marine environment.
Amidst growing concern about the pollution it causes, several countries have, in recent years, restricted the use of certain foamed polystyrene products, such as takeaway containers and cups. While stopping the unnecessary use of plastic is important, efforts thus far have largely overlooked foamed polystyrene pollution originating directly from activities taking place on or near the ocean, and have yet to assess the most effective ways to address this significant potential source.
With that in mind, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has carried out scoping research to identify the ways in which foamed polystyrene is used in marine activities, how these contribute to ocean polystyrene pollution, and what could be done to reduce that contribution. Sharing these ideas widely, particularly with users of foamed polystyrene products at sea, will be crucial for exploring how our recommendations might be put into practice.