What do you do when you are stressed at office? Hurry to the cafetaria and grab a snack? Get a cup of coffee or a can of cola? Maybe a casual chat with your colleagues can lighten your mind, right?
Alright. Let me tell you what I do. There is a sophisticated coffee machine that stands in one corner of my office; giant and whirring and brews fresh hot coffee. I get the coffee in a ‘paper cup’, walk back to my seat and let those leaves of stress in my mind wither away.
Everything was fine until one day I realised those ‘paper cups’ I was drinking coffee in were not paper cups. But devils in disguise.
Styrofoam? What Is It?
Another spelling for D-A-N-G-E-R, if you ask me. ‘Styrofoam’ is basically a brand name for a material called ‘polystyrene’. This ‘polystyrene’ is injected with gases (that are known to destroy the ozone) to create a material called ‘polystyrene foam’ which is used in food packaging for products like take-away meals and supermarket meat trays.
So if you are drinking some beverage in a Styrofoam cup, you know what is going inside you.
Okay. What About The Research? Is There Any?
Yes, there is.
Way back in 1986, the Environment Protection Agency National Human Adipose Tissue Survey had collected numerous samples of human fat tissue. It detected styrene residues in all the samples. The shocking fact is that styrene from food packaging can migrate into the human body was first discovered in 1973.
In the year 1988, Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education had published a survey which found styrene (one molecule form of polystyrene) present in the human fatty tissue. It was discovered that styrene can cause neurotoxic symptoms.
Alright. So? What Can Styrene Do To Me?
The ‘styrene’ present in Styrofoam cups and other such containers has the ability to percolate the food or beverages carried in them. The foods can be anything, ranging from hot or cold drinks, snacks, alcohols to acidic eatables.
Styrene is a suspected carcinogen and neurotoxin. It carries a host of other adverse health effects like:
- Irritation and mucous secretion from eyes and nose.
- Increased levels of fatigue and decreased concentration ability.
- Increased levels of abnormal pulmonary function and cancer.
- Disrupts normal hormone functions resulting in thyroid problems and other hormone related problems.
Just Health Hazards? Or Anything Else?
There is something else too.
Styrene has unpleasant effects on the environment too. And the most unpleasant of those is the fact that styrene takes about 500 years to decompose. Much of the food packaging we eat from today might be disposable, but not decomposable; at-least not for another half a millennium.
When polystyrene waste meanders down the drains and waterways to merge with the big seas and oceans, it carries the prospect of killing the marine life. On the other hand, the mere process of polystyrene manufacturing pollutes the air to a very large extent.
Now This Is Scary. How Can I Stay Cautious?
We have become so dependent on toxic materials, that in order to stay away from their harmful effects we either have to move into a remote jungle or onto some other planet. Right from the cup of coffee we have in the morning to the sip of juice or wine or a tray of meal in the night, mostly we are dealing with and consuming nothing but life threatening substances.
But still, some precautions can be exercised to reduce styrene’s harmful effects.
The Number 6
It is easy to spot packaging which contains polystyrene foam. Look for number 6 within the chasing arrow recycling symbol, and AVOID it.
- Don’t Use In Microwave
- Make sure you don’t microwave your food in polystyrene containers.
- Don’t Burn Polystyrene
We burn garden rubbish and other garbage. But don’t do the same with polystyrene. Doing so releases carbon monoxide into the air, which is even more hazardous.
One thing is clear. Without our knowledge, on a regular basis, we are injecting toxics into our body. Though we may not really be able to prevent it completely, we can at-least minimize it.
So the next time you see your coffee machine in your office, keep calm and think of Styrofoam. You wouldn’t really think of it again!