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The Problem With Polystyrene in Our Oceans

If you’ve gone to the beach, you’re familiar with beach cuisine, from raspados to fish and chips. Additionally, many of these goodies are sold in pre-wrapped packages made of plastic. A prime illustration of this phenomenon is the foamed white polystyrene takeout cup or container, which is quite common (often referred to as styrofoam).

A kind of plastic known as foamed polystyrene is transformed into an insulator that is also buoyant, lightweight, and resistant to water when it is inflated with air. Because of these qualities, foamed polystyrene is an excellent material to utilise for stuffing bean bags, insulating housing, and shaping into blocks or nuggets for use as protective packaging for items while they are in transit. Foamed polystyrene has the ability to maintain a hard form, but it also has the capability of quickly crumbling back into tiny pieces.

Foamed polystyrene is a common type of plastic pollution due to the fact that it is light in weight, widely used, and has the potential to break down quickly. Whether it is carried away by the wind, by the rain, or by a sneaky seagull lured by the smell of fish and chips, foamed polystyrene frequently makes its way into the ocean. Foamed polystyrene, just like almost every other type of plastic, takes a very lengthy time to properly biodegrade, which is why it is not considered to be biodegradable. Instead, once it is in the water, the churning waves and beating sun are able to more readily break it down into bite-size bits than they are able to accomplish with other types of plastic.

We Put Polystyrene Straight Into The Ocean

Uses of foamed polystyrene are not restricted to those that take place on land. It is often used in and on the ocean in fisheries, aquaculture, and water sports, among other activities, which contributes to its position in the aggregated pollution found within large ocean gyres and at the top of the beach clean product lists. The following are some of the most common maritime applications of foamed polystyrene:

The use of buoys, which can be made of durable plastic and are often used to demarcate regions, is widespread (e.g. safe sea swimming zones). The foamed polystyrene core can be swiftly pulverised into tiny puffed bits by waves, wind, and animals if it is not coated with hard plastic or if this hard plastic becomes brittle and breaks over time. If it is covered in hard plastic, it can become brittle and shatter over time.

During fishing trips, it is helpful to have fish boxes, also known as cool boxes and lids, since these boxes serve to keep the catch cold and fresh. On deck, however, even a light breeze has the potential to blow a lid overboard, which helps to explain why one might so commonly find one of these items at sea.

Foamed polystyrene may be used on the interior of pontoons and marina platforms because it is so light. This allows it to provide a buoyant platform that allows sailors to access their moored boats. If this surface is left exposed, it will continue to deteriorate over time due to the action of the environment and the hundreds of teeny-tiny crustaceans that dig into it, producing millions of foamed polystyrene shavings. Even though these platforms are covered, they are nevertheless susceptible to being broken open by violent storms, as was observed in Holyhead Marina in the year 2018, which resulted in foamed polystyrene confetti being scattered around the sea.

Because these goods are utilised on the water, they are a direct possible source of plastic pollution to the ocean and so constitute a direct potential source. In light of this fact, the Marine Plastics team at Fauna & Flora International is now doing scoping of the amount and nature of marine uses of foamed polystyrene, as well as the risk of these goods becoming pollutant. With the use of this information, we will be able to calculate the extent of the pollution risk that is posed to marine life and ecosystems by the use of foamed polystyrene in activities that take place in the ocean.

Threat To Marine Life

According to the findings of several studies conducted in the lab, the presence of foamed polystyrene pollution in the ocean may pose a significant threat to marine life. As it floats on the water’s surface, foamed polystyrene has the potential to be consumed by a wide variety of seabirds, some of which may misidentify it as food, such as fish or squid. After being colonised by algae, barnacles, and other microscopic creatures, the object might eventually drop below the surface of the water, where other marine life could unintentionally consume it. In experimental settings, it has been proven that invertebrates at the bottom of the marine food chain, who consume foamed polystyrene, experience a reduction in fertility, a drop in energy, and an alteration in the development of their juveniles. It takes space in animals’ stomachs that should be accessible for food, which can occasionally provide a false sensation of fullness or cause a physical obstruction that can lead to internal injury. In addition, it is made of plastic, thus it acts similarly to other types of plastic.

In addition, foamed polystyrene has been shown to pose a substantial threat to both human and environmental health. This is due to the fact that some chemical components of the material, such as styrene, have been shown to be associated with serious illnesses, such as cancer.

Around the world we have now started to see that Governments have either prohibited or severely restricted the use of foamed polystyrene food-contact goods, such as takeout containers and cups, as well as their manufacturing or import. Even while this will most likely cut down on the total quantity of foamed polystyrene that is dumped into the ocean, foamed polystyrene pollution that is caused by activities that take place on the water continues to be pervasive and is usually ignored in comparison.