To: Mayor Valérie Plante

Ban polystyrene foam (styrofoam) in Montreal

Ban polystyrene foam (styrofoam) in Montreal

Ban the use of polystyrene foam in Montreal.

Why is this important?

Polystyrene foam, more commonly known as Styrofoam, is a non-biodegradable, petroleum-based material containing styrene, a cancer-suspect compound (according to the Environmental Protection Agency [https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/styrene.pdf], the International Agency for Research on Cancer [http://www.inchem.org/documents/iarc/vol82/82-07.html], and the American National Toxicology Program [https://web.archive.org/web/20110612085554/http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/materials/styrenefs.pdf]), and benzene, a confirmed carcinogen (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/benzene.pdf).

Most Montreal fruiteries and grocery stores make regular use of polystyrene cartons to package fresh, bulk fruits and vegetables. Polystyrene is also used by some restaurants and cafés to serve food and drinks. And of course, polystyrene is a common material used in shipping (foam inserts, packing peanuts, egg cartons) and in construction as insulation.

There are many reasons to object to the use of polystyrene packaging:

1. When used to package certain food products (hot food and beverages, alcohol, foods containing beta-carotene) it has been suggested that some of the toxins in polystyrene (styrene and benzene) are more likely to leach into your food. One study even showed that styrene can leach directly into ambient-temperature water (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17915704). The American Food and Drug Administration, however, insists that polystyrene is a safe and stable food container, although small amounts of styrene may remain in the plastic post-production (https://www.plasticfoodservicefacts.com/foodservice-safety/fda-safety-of-polystyrene-foodservice-products/). In short, this is a controversial point — but regardless of where you stand on this point, there are many other reasons to ban the use of polystyrene.

2. As a petroleum product, polystyrene is unsustainable. A Worldwatch report from 2016 estimates that 8% of petroleum consumed globally goes towards making plastics: 4% in the plastics themselves, and another 4% to power the production process (http://www.worldwatch.org/global-plastic-production-rises-recycling-lags-0).

3. Polystyrene is resistant to photolysis and takes hundreds of years to decompose. Because of its ubiquitous use and the degree to which it is difficult, expensive, and dangerous to recycle, polystyrene plastics make up an enormous portion of landfill waste and marine debris (see, e.g., http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-polystyrene-bans-20160713-snap-story.html). Even if marine debris is not technically toxic, it is still a colossal problem. A recent report stated that "global annual plastic consumption has now reached over 320 million tonnes with more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before," and that the world's largest marine garbage pile, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is growing more quickly than ever (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w).

4. Although the plastic is relatively stable, and there is no current consensus on whether it leaches toxic compounds into water systems, it is established that polystyrene (a) act as a sponge for chemical pollutants in the water (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X09002690), and (b) physically break down into small pellets that are very difficult to clean up, and are subsequently consumed by marine life and birds. This leads both to choking and digestive system blockages and to poisoning of the organisms that consume the pollutant-soaked pellets. This is not only ethically wrong in terms of our relations to the non-human world, but it comes full circle, contributing to the poisoning of the food and water sources we rely on.

5. Even before it makes it to the grocery store, the landfill, or the ocean, polystyrene is putting people at risk. A study conducted in 2016 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26574575) reported excess numbers of deaths associated with lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among workers who are chronically exposed to styrene compounds. (See also: https://web.archive.org/web/20110617160927/http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov:80/ntp/roc/twelfth/profiles/Styrene.pdf.)

6. Polystyrene is very difficult to recycle in part because its basic ingredients, styrene and benzene, are toxic (http://mercergroup.com/what-we-recycle/). Ecocentre LaSalle does have a polystyrene recycling program, but you must have the means to bring it there yourself (http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=9217,103627572&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL). For now, this is an absolutely necessary project to have. It is, however, inaccessible to many if not most Montrealers, requires too many resources, puts more people in contact with toxins, and would be unnecessary if polystyrene — which causes harm even before it is thrown away — were no longer allowed in the city.

7. Canada says it wants to be a leader in reducing plastic waste (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-g7-plastics-push-1.4566732), but we're way behind. Many cities in the United States, including major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, have already banned the use of polystyrene products (https://groundswell.org/map-which-cities-have-banned-plastic-foam/).

There has recently been recognition in Montreal of the harm that non-recyclable plastic shopping bags cause the environment and ourselves. There is momentum in this city that we can use to push farther. If we are truly committed to the reduction of plastic waste, it needs to be extended to other dangerous, one-use plastic products — and what better place to begin than polystyrene.

How it will be delivered

I plan to email the signatures to the Mayor's office. Depending on how many signatures we get, however, I may consider delivering them in person.


Reasons for signing

  • So long as use of styrofoam is widespread in the city, Montreal will never be a leader in environmentally sound practices. There is a glaring contradiction between banning plastic bags while encouraging styrofoam use in markets, restaurants and ice cream stores. Styrofoam can easily be replaced by recycled (recyclable) paper boxes and cups.

Updates

2018-08-16 10:11:50 -0400

50 signatures reached

2018-06-30 13:52:56 -0400

25 signatures reached

2018-06-29 16:04:30 -0400

10 signatures reached