What's with Styrofoam?

While I was initially afraid that moving to the South would mean taking a few steps backward in an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, only to be pleasantly surprised when a recycling business started up in our new town the week we moved in, that doesn’t mean that recycling has become a normal part of life here yet. It’ll take some time to catch on. It’s difficult to find recycling bins and the big box store checkers look at me like I’ve just landed from Mars when I tell them I don’t need a plastic bag. “Are you sure?” they ask.

I expected all of that. What’s thrown me a curve is the prevalence of styrofoam containers. Back in the 1980s, the Peoples’ Republic of Berkeley, California (my hometown at the time) was the first city in the world to ban styrofoam. From there, I moved overseas for a decade where Cokes came in the old-fashioned glass bottles and there was very little packaging-type trash to throw away. (You can tell a lot about the wealth of a nation by the amount and type of its waste.) By the time I moved back to the States, the styrofoam ban had caught on in the rest of California. And so it’s been disconcerting to see it turn up again – in appliance packaging, shipping peanuts, cups and take-out food trays.

Styrofoam, aka polystyrene, is manufactured with petroleum. As if that isn’t bad enough, like disposable diapers and plastic bags, it will never break down in landfills. It all gets sucked into that Texas-sized vortex, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, headed for the pristine beaches of Hawaii. Thirty years ago, banning styrofoam seemed like a radical and totally Berkeleyesque thing to do. But haven’t we all had a wake-up call recently with daily images of the oil spill in the Gulf? Now it just seems like the right step in our quest to take care of the beautiful world God has given us. And that’s why I wanted to write my blob (as my father calls it, but then he also says Spacebook) about our need to say “No” to styrofoam.

 

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