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Question submitted on 12/29/04

I've been asked to develop a fact sheet discussing the pros and cons of using polystyrene for things such as beverage or food containment. I'm looking for research based information on the environmental and economic aspects of polystyrene use.

Answer:

As an authoritative source for questions like this, I highly recommend the book The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, which you should be able to obtain through your local library. There is a discussion of styrofoam (polystyrene) on p. 16. For more information about the book, see http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/060980281X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0579898-7891101.

Some web resources of interest include:

Polystyrene and the Environment (Polystyrene Packaging Council)
http://www.polystyrene.org/environment/environment.html

Expanded Polystyrene (Australia)
http://www.pacia.org.au/index.cfm?menuaction=mem&mmid=011&mid=011.001

Arguments Against Polystyrene Foam Products
http://www.verdant.net/nofoam.htm

Some more scientifically oriented papers include:

Endocrinically Active Chemicals in the Environment
http://www.epa.gov/endocrine/Pubs/uba3_96.pdf

Plastic Pellets in the Environment: Sources and Recommendations
http://www.epa.gov/owow/OCPD/PLASTIC/plasticpellets.pdf

Technical Factsheet on Styrene
http://www.epa.gov/OGWDW/dwh/t-voc/styrene.html

Some journal articles of relevance include the following. You should be able to obtain copies of these through your local library:

Zabaniotou, A; Kassidi, E. (2003) "Life cycle assessment applied to egg packaging made from polystyrene and recycled paper." Journal of Cleaner Production 11(5), 549-559.
Abstract: In the present study, the application of life cycle assessment (LCA) for the comparison of two egg packages, from polystyrene and recycled paper, is presented. The input and output streams of mass and energy are examined and the environmental impacts associated with the two systems are analyzed. The application of LCA by using EcoIndicator 95 has made possible the comparison of the environmental impacts of two egg packages. The results of this LCA study are discussed and reveal that the PS packages contribute more to acidification potential, winter and summer smog, while recycled paper egg packages contribute more to heavy metal and carcinogenic substances impact. Nevertheless, it seems that paper eggcups have less environmental impact than the polystyrene ones with the assumption that the accuracy of the results is confined by the credibility of European databases used for primary data.

Ohno, K; Azuma, Y; Nakano, S; Kobayashi, T; Hirano, S; Nobuhara,Y ; Yamada, T. (2001) "Assessment of styrene oligomers eluted from polystyrene-made food containers for estrogenic effects in in vitro assays." Food and Chemical Toxicology 39(12), 1233-1241.
Abstract: Recently, several substances from among the huge numbers of chemicals used by mankind have been implicated as instigators of disrupted endocrine function and related human health problems. Polystyrene (PS) is one of the most frequently used resins in the world, and the styrene oligomer dissolved out from PS has been designated as a potential trigger of estrogen-like activity in the Wingspread Declaration and the Japan Environment Agency's SPEED98 [JEA (Japan Environment Agency) Strategic Problem on Environmental Endocrine Disruptors '98 (SPEED) '98), http://www.env.go.jp/en/chemi/ed/speed98/sp98.html]. In order to assess the endocrine disrupting effect of styrene oligomers, we tested one styrene monomer (SM), three styrene dimers (SDs) and seven styrene trimers (STs), newly isolated from optical isomers, known to dissolve in small amounts from cup noodle containers made of polystyrene by the estrogen receptor binding assay, luciferase reporter gene assay, and human breast cancer cell MCF-7 proliferation assay. In all three tests, none of the SM, SDs and STs showed any significant activity. Accordingly, we concluded that these substances have no estrogenic activity.

Prinsen, MK; Gouko, Nobuaki (2001). "Determination of the Oestrogenic (Uterotrophic) Activity of Extracts of 'General Purpose Polystyrene (GPPS)' using Immature Female Rats." Journal of Applied Toxicology 21(3), 235-239.
Abstract: In Japan there is growing concern about the possible adverse effects of consumption of food from styrene containers (mainlythose made from polystyrene paper) due to the alleged oestrogenic activity of styrene oligomers (dimers and trimers), which may migrate into the food. To examine the possible oestrogenic activity of styrene dimers and trimers, extracts were made from 'general purpose polystyrene (GPPS)' and administered orally to immature female rats over a 4 day period. Increase of uterus weight (wet and blotted) was used for assessment of possible oestrogenic activity. To establish the sensitivity of the test method, immature rats were treated with diethylstilboestrol (DES), a well-known oestrogenic compound. It was found that treatment of rats with levels of up to 60 mu g of styrene dimers and 930 mu g of styrene trimers per kilogram body weight per day did not give any statistically significant increase of the uterus weight (wet or blotted), whereas DES caused statistically significant, dose-related increases in uterus weight at levels as low as 0.89 mu g kg super(-1) body weight day super(-1). It was concluded that, compared with the estimated maximum human daily intake of styrene trimers of 1 mu g kg super(-1) body weight day super(-1) from polystyrene food containers, the risk of adverse human health effects with respect to oestrogenicity may be considered negligible.

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