Styrofoam, the brand name for extruded polystyrene (EPS), was invented in 1941 and has become a household name ever since. There are many uses for Styrofoam today, from packaging and insulation, to crafting and food storage.
We've all opened a package to find it full of styrofoam packing peanuts. That's because styrofoam is commonly found in the packaging industry. This is because styrofoam offers a high level of padding and protection for the products being shipped. Packaging peanuts are actually just small pieces of extruded polystyrene that cushion products, such as electronics, during shipping to prevent any damage. Large pieces of Styrofoam can also be custom shaped to fit expensive goods being shipped, such as home audio systems.
Styrofoam is also used in construction as a form of insulation. In fact, you probably have styrofoam helping to keep your house warm right now. Sheets of styrofoam, which are called blue boards in the construction industry, are used to insulate the floors, walls, pipes and roofs on the interiors of all sort of buildings. Styrofoam insulates buildings from extreme temperatures and moisture, protecting you from the outside elements, and also provides a barrier for sound.
Many individuals use Styrofoam for craft projects and other household purposes. Ball, block and cone-shaped pieces of Styrofoam can be decorated with craft supplies such as paint, fabric, craft jewels and beads. If you've ever had to help your child with a school project, from planet replicas to dioramas, you've probably used styrofoam before. Styrofoam is also often used as the base in which to secure silk flower arrangements. Styrofoam is available in many specialty shapes as well, including hearts, discs, eggs and cubes.
If you've ever gone out to eat and had to take your leftovers home, you probably have styrofoam sitting your refrigerator. Extruded polystyrene is used throughout 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 still commonly used because of it's low-cost, as well as the ability to maintain shape, insulate well and retai the temperature of hot and cold food.
It's important to understand that styrofoam is not the most environmentally friendly product. Styrofoam takes a significant amount of time to break down in landfills and should never be burned, as it releases styrene gas, which can be dangerous to your nervous system.
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 make your own fun project, such as a Styrofoam peanut bean bag chair.
Based in Mississauga, Ontario, Chelsea Oliver has been writing professionally since 2008. Her work has appeared in several collegiate humanities publications, such as St. Jerome's "Across the Creek" and the online magazine The Boar. Oliver holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English literature and rhetoric from the University of Waterloo.