Going for Green in Lyons

By Kathleen Thurmes
Last week, Eco-Cycle, Environment Colorado, CoPIRG and concerned citizens gathered at Confluence Park in Denver to highlight the dangers associated single-use disposable plastics and to launch a new statewide effort to ban food-grade polystyrene foam containers, one of the worst offenders.

Plastic pollution poses a danger to our planet, our oceans, and our health. That’s why Eco-Cycle is partnering with

Environment Colorado and CoPIRG to work with local partners to support the “Wildlife Over Waste,” campaign, which focuses first on banning harmful food-grade polystyrene food containers in our state.

Food-grade polystyrene foam, often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam, is one of the worst and most common types of plastic. Coloradans throw out more than 1 million polystyrene foam containers every day. Roughly a third of that discarded plastic ends up in our waterways.

“We’re not only polluting our oceans, we’re polluting the Colorado River, the South Platte River, and many other important local water resources,” said Environment Colorado director Garrett Garner-Wells. “Our plastic pollution problem starts with us and it destroys our local environment first. We’ve known the dangers of plastic waste for decades and with safer, economical alternatives on the marketplace, now is the time to act.”

Virtually all plastics--more than 90%--are made from byproducts or derivatives of natural gas, oil, or coal. That translates to about 6 percent of global oil consumption today with a projected increase to 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050.

A significant amount of plastic, including food-grade polystyrene foam, can’t be safely recycled or composted. Even plastics that are recyclable only go through the process a few times before they become degraded and unusable. Compare that to glass and aluminum, which can be recycled indefinitely -- something to think about the next time you go shopping.

Of all the widely used plastics, polystyrene foam is one of the worst, yet is still used as a food and beverage container. Its negative impacts occur upstream with extraction and refining and downstream where the used takeout containers are either landfilled or wind up as litter along roads, in waterways, and in the oceans, creating health hazards and pollution all along the way.

In fact, six polystyrene foam products were among the top 20 plastic items collected at beach cleanups, according to the coalition Better Alternatives Now. These and other plastic products are raising alarms about the health of oceans and marine life because they may leach toxic chemicals or be eaten by fish.

Plastics are not truly biodegradable, but when exposed to the elements, they can eventually break down into tinier and tinier pieces called microplastics. Researchers have found microplastics in soils, in freshwater, in seafood, and even in bottled water. And while we don’t know exactly what the health effects may be for people and animals that ingest them, we can start to get ideas by looking at what they’re made of.

For instance, polystyrene foam is made with styrene, a likely human carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and benzene, a known carcinogen. When foam containers are heated or hot food is put in them, these chemicals start to leach out.

The EPA has ranked polystyrene manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation.
Some institutions and communities have already banned food-grade polystyrene foam. New York City has banned the containers. So have more than 70 communities in California and many in Massachusetts. The City of Baltimore, Maryland recently approved a ban, and now the State of Maryland is considering one, which would make it the first state in the nation to do so.

In Colorado, the Towns of Vail and Avon considered bans last year but did not move forward, largely because municipalities are prohibited from banning plastics.

“Polystyrene foam is bad for people and the environment on many levels,” said Harlin Savage, Communications Director for Eco-Cycle. “Many communities have already said good-bye forever to polystyrene foam containers. Colorado could be the first state to ban this harmful ‘convenience’ plastic. What are we waiting for?”

The BEST alternative to Styrofoam takeout materials is to bring a reusable container. Other good alternatives are: aluminum containers; bagasse containers made from sugar cane waste; Bio Plus Terra II containers; and #5 plastic food containers.
For more information on plastics recycling and plastic pollution, visit: http://ecocycle.org/take-action/reduce-plastic

The Town of Lyons is working with Eco-Cycle to become a model “Green Star” Zero Waste Community for other small towns to emulate. To get involved or submit a question that you’d like to see answered in this column, email Kathleen Thurmes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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