It’s time we said no to Styrofoam...

Monday April 24, 2017 Written by Published in Environment
Bins stuff ed with Styrofoam rubbish are a common sight at markets and gatherings around the island. 17042118 Bins stuff ed with Styrofoam rubbish are a common sight at markets and gatherings around the island. 17042118

Today is Earth Day, and we thought it would be good idea to make people aware of something they can do here in the Cook Islands to help our Mother Earth .


Te Ipukarea Society has been campaigning over the past two years against the use of  Styrofoam food containers by food vendors. We are pleased to be able to say that a number of these proactive food sellers have taken note of our concerns and changed to biodegradeable or re-useable containers or plates and cutlery.

Some environmentally aware retailers have stopped selling Styrofoam containers. However, there are still a large number of food vendors, and some retail outlets, that have not yet made the change.

As a result, Cook Islanders are still being served hot, steaming foods in  Styrofoam food containers. These clam shell-type containers are still commonly used at Punanga Nui Market, Muri Night Market, and other events that attract food vendors. There is a growing number of people also selling fast food that they deliver to your work place, and many of these are also using  Styrofoam containers.

There are two main reasons we should not be using Styrofoam: our health and our environment.

Styrofoam is particularly unsafe when heated or used with hot food or liquid. In contact with heat, it will start to melt or break down, causing the chemicals: dioxin, benzene and styrene, to seep into the liquid or foods.

The chemicals found in  Styrofoam are possible carcinogens and, according to the International Agency on Research on Cancer and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, can cause a variety of cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. You should certainly never reheat food in the microwave in a  Styrofoam container.

The dioxins in  Styrofoam are a form of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). They can cause immune and hormonal problems and affect development of unborn babies. When  Styrofoam is burnt in your rubbish fires, dioxins are released into the environment leading to air pollution and health problems when inhaled by people and animals.

Another chemical in  Styrofoam, styrene, can mimic the properties of the female hormone, oestrogen, and cause thyroid problems as well as menstrual irregularities. It can also cause related health problems such as fatigue, headache, depression and kidney ailments.

If the public health impacts of  Styrofoam are not enough to put you off eating your food out of it, perhaps the environmental impact will persuade you.

Styrofoam’s environmental effects are well documented. It takes 500 years to decompose, and it takes up 25-30 per cent of the space in our world’s landfills. In addition, our waterways and oceans are suffering thanks to  Styrofoam waste. As it breaks into smaller particles it is eaten by fish, causing them to eventually die. A total of 57 chemical by-productsis  released during the manufacture of Styrene, polluting the air and waterways.

At least one Caribbean Island nation, Guyana, has banned  Styrofoam, and another, Dominica, is working on a ban as well. Hawaii is considering a ban by 2020. A large number of cities in the US have also banned the use of  Styrofoam for hot foods and drinks.

As a nation, we could also join this growing number of places around the world and ban the importation of these  Styrofoam containers.

Meanwhile, if you are concerned about what  Styrofoam can do to your health, and our environment, ask your food vendor to use readily available biodegradable alternatives, or better still, take your own food container with you.

This weekly column is supplied by Te Ipukarea Society. It looks at conservation and environmental matters of interest to the Cook Islands.


Leave a comment