A squirrel eating a styrofoam cup Photo: Marc falardeau

By Aishwarya Vedula, age 12

Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by products made of plastic. This is a huge problem for our environment because these materials contribute both to littering the ocean and the earth, as well as to climate change.

According to the science NGO Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our oceans every year, on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in our marine environments. One of the strongest, most common types of plastic, that is also typically used for very short amounts of time before being thrown away, is polystyrene, otherwise known as Styrofoam. Styrofoam might be used to hold your morning coffee or your takeout lunch. You might only use it for a few minutes, but it can last for hundreds of years before it decomposes. The world produces more than 14 million tons of polystyrene each year, and Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year.

Because Styrofoam is made from petroleum, its manufacture releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. There is also research that suggests Styrofoam can be harmful to human health.

Because of this, New York City officials fought to pass a Styrofoam ban, and finally won after a long battle. The Styrofoam ban was originally scheduled to take place in July 2015, but a coalition of restaurant and manufacturing groups, arguing that these materials can be recycled, sued the city. Although these materials can be recycled, it is very costly to recycle them in the proper way. On January 1, 2019, the ban was scheduled to take place. Companies were then given a 6-month transition period because of protests. Then the ban officially took place on July 1, 2019.

Now, you might think that since there are no punishments for breaking this rule, this ban has no effect. Well, you are wrong. If violators are caught, they will have to pay a fine of $250 for their first offense, $500 for their second, and $1,000 for their third offense and beyond.

This ban will affect climate change because by banning Styrofoam overall, we reduce the amount of garbage in landfills and also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and methane gas released into the atmosphere. According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, “The 60 million pounds of Styrofoam New Yorkers throw away each year clog our landfills and fuel the petroleum economy destroying our planet.”

Some other cities that have also banned Styrofoam are Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C.; and Miami Beach, Florida. The Story of Stuff Project, an organization that is working to find solutions for environmental problems, says, “It’s as if a big Styrofoam domino has started to fall, taking all the other dominos down with it.”