Kicking the Styrofoam Habit

By Rachel Sarnoff

I’ve been thinking more and more about the Styrofoam my family consumes—to-go containers, coffee cups, lidded foam “kid cups.”

I’m trying to reduce our consumption when we’re out by requesting drinks in paper instead of foam, ordering better so we leave less leftovers and asking that the kids be served in glass cups along with the rest of the family.

Frankly, styrene—also known as polystyrene, and better known as Styrofoam—terrifies me. It takes 500+ years to degrade, dissolves into tiny bits that end up in the ocean, is rarely recyclable, and last year it was assessed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the government.

It’s horrible stuff.

In 2012, Scientists from UC, Davis, among others, called for reclassification of PVC, polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate as “hazardous” because they’re hard to recycle and most toxic when degrading.

Around the same time, a petition asking Delta to phase out polystyrene garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

And if you think signing petitions is like spitting in the wind, consider the fact that  because of a similar petition McDonalds—McDonalds!!—is beginning to phase out Styrofoam for more eco-friendly paper.

In fact, consumer opinion was behind California’s decision to ban Styrofoam takeout containers, beginning in 2014.

That is exactly the kind of muscle this movement needs, and bodes well for the future. Because if we can ban Styrofoam in California why not take it nationwide?

Meanwhile, what can you do?

  1. Don’t buy Styrofoam. Ever. With so many better disposable options out there—including cups made from plant based plastic that biodegrade—why would you?
  2. Bring your own cups to restaurants that serve drinks in foam.
  3. If your favorite takeout still serves in the stuff, bring your own container for them to fill, and explain why you refuse to bring home your food in a poisonous container. Hopefully they’ll get the message.


Rachel SarnoffAbout The Author

Better known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children magazine—before she had three of her own. Rachel was featured in Los Angeles and Lucky magazines and appeared on “The Today Show” and “CNN Headline News,” among others, to share advice about healthier living with less judgement. The author of The Big List of Things That Suck and partner at Give + Take swap shop in Los Angeles, Rachel also publishes, where “you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to raise healthy kids.” Follow her and at


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