Styrofoam is used for a variety of purposes such as packaging, building material, to go cups, etc. However, what most people don’t know is that it takes up to 500 years to biodegrade. With that in mind, up to 30% of the garbage volume in landfill sites consists of styrofoam.
A health hazard affecting wildlife and workers
The real danger of styrofoam lies in the chemical from which it is made: styrene. This chemical has been associated with a list of health effects such as cancer, vision & hearing loss, impaired memory & concentration, and more. With the remarkable amount of styrofoam recovered in landfills, it’s no surprise that there are repercussions on its visitors. For wildlife, it may harm or kill land and marine animals. Birds have a tendency to transport garbage with them off the sites and into nature where the trash finds itself in open water and harms the marine environment. Furthermore, when birds ingest styrofoam it blocks their digestive systems which may suffocate them.
As for humans, there are many health-related problems associated with styrofoam although symptoms may vary. The most common health effects are irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract along with gastrointestinal problems. After prolonged periods of exposure, workers may experience depression, chronic headaches, fatigue & weakness, and minor effects on kidney and blood. It’s important to keep in mind that landfill workers are not the only ones subject to prolonged exposure. Thousands of employees in industries such as rubber and fiberglass manufacturing are also at risk. Although there exist many alternatives to styrofoam, a new invention recently emerged on the market that has incredible potential.
Nanowood: an innovative, ecological, & economical substitute
Invented by Tian Li and research colleague Liangbing Hu at University of Maryland, Nanowood has the potential to completely replace styrofoam. Made of tiny wood fibres from fast-growing and renewable farm-raised trees, it heats to 10 degrees more efficiently and may withstand 30 times more pressure than styrofoam before crushing. Nanowood is a cost-effective, non-toxic, biodegradable and sustainable substitute that has the potential of preventing tons of environmental damage, thereby significantly reducing our carbon footprint. Replacing styrofoam with this invention would have a significant impact on the environment by removing the side effects of the toxic chemical styrene.
Working together to reduce the problem
When it comes to reducing the usage of styrofoam Nanowood is the ideal solution, however this would not eliminate the presence of birds on landfill sites. On the road to a cleaner & greener planet, the best case would be to replace styrofoam with Nanowood while also implementing Lockbird’s services in landfills.
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