Styrofoam, or extruded polystyrene (EPS), was invented in 1941 for the Dow Building Solutions company by chemist Ray McIntyre. Dow extruded polystyrene in order to achieve a moisture-resistant, closed-cell foam. Styrofoam became popular in 1942 when it was adopted by the United States Coast Guard for use in life rafts and other war-based applications. There are many uses for Styrofoam today, such as packaging and insulation.
Styrofoam is commonly found in the packaging industry due to the fact that it offers a high level of protection for the products being shipped. Packaging peanuts are small pieces of extruded polystyrene that are designed to cushion products, such as electronics, during shipping to prevent any damage. Large pieces of Styrofoam can also be custom shaped to fit the goods being shipped, such as home audio systems.
Many individuals use Styrofoam for craft projects and household purposes. Ball, block and cone-shaped pieces of Styrofoam can be decorated with craft supplies such as paint, fabric, craft jewels and beads and used as ornaments or candle holders. Styrofoam is also often used as the base in which to secure silk flower arrangements. Children also enjoy playing with this material, which can also be used for school projects such as planet replicas. Styrofoam is available in many shapes, including hearts, discs, eggs and cubes.
Extruded polystyrene is found in the food industry in the form of take-out containers, beverage containers, coolers and trays. While many companies are seeking products to replace the use of Styrofoam, it is commonly used because is a low-cost material that maintains shape, insulates well and retains the temperature of hot and cold food.
Styrofoam is also used in the field of construction. Sheets of extruded polystyrene, which are called blue boards in the construction industry, are used to insulate the floors, walls, pipes and roofs of the interiors of buildings from the outdoor elements. Styrofoam insulates buildings from extreme temperatures and moisture, and also provides a barrier for sound.
Styrofoam takes a significant amount of time to break down in environments such as landfills and should not be burned as it releases styrene gas. While many recycling programs do not yet accept Styrofoam, consider recycling it at home. Save it to be used for packing or shipping; larger pieces of Styrofoam can be easily broken down. You can also try taking leftover Styrofoam to craft shops to be given to customers or creating a fun project such as a Styrofoam peanut beanbag chair.