Discovered by Eduard Simon in 1839, this plastic is one of the most widely used plastics with the scale of production totalling several billion kilograms per year.
You may think this type of plastic is only really used in packaging and takeaway coffee cups but in truth it comes in the form of hard plastic and is commonly used in the production of thousands of different products as a mould. It is cheap, easy to produce and easily manipulated into different shapes and forms making it extremely useful.
In fact, polystyrene is used, in the hard plastic form, as smoke detector housing and lab equipment: (petri dishes and test tubes and other apparatus frequently used in biomedical and pharmaceutical research). In other forms the plastic can be stretched into a transparent glass-like material often used in packaging. It is often transformed into lightweight foam which can be used as building insulation or even as a buoyancy aid. In short, it could save your life.
Despite these qualities the plastic is often harshly judged for being a danger to the environment due to the fact that it degrades so slowly. However, the plastic is easily recycled so there is no real need to leave it in a landfill. For example in Germany, the country of origin for this plastic, laws are passed to financially reward companies for collecting and recycling their polystyrene.
Furthermore, the environmentalists argue that the plastic does not degrade in landfills is flawed by the fact that nothing degrades in a landfill. Landfills are too tightly packed for anything to degrade as rotting requires oxygen to occur. This also explains why paper, the Styrofoam cup’s main and supposedly environmentally sounder competitor, can be found intact and readable after decades deep in a landfill. You have to ask yourself, how can a paper cup be safer than a foam one if its’ production creates waste water with 40 times more contaminants?