Ban the Foam

By Kahi Pacarro
I can almost guarantee you’re shredding (or think your shredding) on a toxic vehicle made up of a multitude of materials that can and will negatively impact our environment after its final wave. In the coming months, we’re going to unveil the ground breaking materials that are helping to get us off our hypocritical shred sticks and putting us on sustainable sleds. For this article I want to segue into one specific material that many of our boards are made of and how it relates to our current Hawaiian culture.

The ubiquitous styrofoam plate holding the staple local meal, a perfectly segmented container that keeps our rice and mac salad from blending into the meat, is made out of the same toxic material that many of our surfboard blanks made up of. The continual use of this product is having detrimental effects on our environment and on you.

Styrofoam or more appropriately identified as EPS (expanded polystyrene) entered our culture to replace the paper plate and cardboard box and arguably has tainted it ever since. It is most commonly used in Hawaii to house our plate lunches which we consume in a few minutes, yet the EPS container will persist in the environment for hundreds of years. EPS is created by adding heat, air, and moisture to Polystyrene beads also known as nurdles.

If you were to go to any beach on the East side of any island in the Hawaii chain and take a sample about the size of a small bucket, you’ll find nurdles. They look like large grains of sand and come in different colors from clear to black with most being white. They have infected our coastline but their presence is unnoticed because they are so small. We’ve found them in the stomachs of fish and albatross because when they are in the ocean they look like fish eggs. Sadly though, when they are in the ocean they attract toxins like pesticides which are then transferred into the animals as explained in last month’s article.

In Hawaii, we ship in billions of polystyrene nurdles every year because we actually make much of the EPS we use right here on Oahu. Nurdles enter the ocean from a multitude of locations but primarily from factories that make and use them and from containers lost at sea. They now inhabit beautiful beaches around the world, not just here in Hawaii.

The biggest reasons for the need for a ban on EPS are pollution and health. From a pollution standpoint, EPS remains one of the main items found on beaches around the world and nurdles, by count, remain near the top of the list. From a health standpoint, I’d like to focus on indirect health effects and direct health effects.

From an indirect effect, polystyrene nurdles and EPS, when in the ocean, collect petroleum based toxins like pesticides due to their lipophilic attributes. When the nurdles and EPS are ingested by animals, these toxins are transferred into the animals fatty tissue. These toxins continue to biomagnify up the food chain until reaching us, often served ironically in a styrofoam container.

A direct effect from using styrofoam containers is toxic exposure to chemicals. Toxins like styrene leach into our food and into our bodies in a similar way to animals in the oceans. You may have seen this happen yourself when you have really hot food in a styrofoam clamshell and see the disfiguration in the corners. That is a sign of the styrofoam melting and the transfer of styrene into your food. It’s even worse, you don’t need to have super hot foods to have this happen. Simply oily foods can initiate the transfer of toxins into your food.

Styrene is considered a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer and the United States Department of Health and Human Services has identified styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen.”

The 2017 State Legislative session is off to an exciting start. In past years, any attempts to ban styrofoam were met immediately with drastic push back and quickly died despite the risks to the environment and public health. But this year, Senate Bill SB1109 is on a tear with unprecedented support.

There is another bill – HB 1545 – in the House of Representatives that negates the ability of the State to purchase styrofoam. This is exciting considering the majority of school children eat their lunches on styrofoam plates every day. The time is now. Let’s make it happen and encourage our lawmakers to pass SB1109 and HB 1545.

Be a part of the solution by submitting testimony and becoming an active participant in our political system. You can also encourage our restaurants and shapers, to stop using EPS and move to alternatives.

The surfboard alternatives are on the horizon. I’ll tell you more about them soon.


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