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  • Writer's pictureMary Shackelton, MPH, ND


Updated: Sep 1, 2022

On a recent road trip to Idaho with my family, we spent the night in a hotel, the kind that has the pre-packaged breakfasts that are a "bonus" for staying there. I dread these places for about 100 reasons; however, at 9 AM they happen to be very convenient in the middle of the country when you are miles from anywhere. My kids love to wake up and rush downstairs. Honestly, I think they like the self-serve concept more than the food, at least, that is what I am hoping is the case, and they usually stick to boxed cereals and yogurt. So, it’s not horrible. I’m just glad they don't eat it everyday.

On this particular morning, my son walked over to me and gave me his plate with a bite taken out of the sausage patty that he did not like. I cracked up when I realized how much more I feared the plate that he was eating on rather than the food he was consuming from it. While pre-packaged and full of preservatives, I normally wouldn't want them eating this particular sausage, but I try to turn a blind eye in these situations to give them the freedom to explore and make comparisons about the way we eat and what is out there in the world. I try not to be a lunatic (mostly because my teenager begs me not to), but it’s hard sometimes.

The styrofoam plate and plastic fork send a message about what so many don't know or don't mind tolerating. That styrofoam plate that was only used for 4 minutes will take years, if ever, to break down in a landfill. The plastic could potentially be recycled, but I know it was not. Nope…all dumped into one trash can. Styrofoam has a host of chemicals that are considered to be carcinogenic to humans by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Add this exposure to the many, many others that we all have daily, some that are within our control and many that are not, and you can begin to see the global health dilemma we face. The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research found 57 chemical by-products released during the combustion of expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) foam. So, we are adding to the toxic burden of our bodies and the earth with the continued use of styrofoam.

Not sure what I could have done in this situation other than wishing we could get back into the car and pretend it never happened. It feels hopeless sometimes when you realize how MUCH we rely on these products and how painfully slow social change feels sometimes. I know by looking around in my own community that there is awareness about the use of chemicals, but this awakening started slowly from the ground up. People demanded a different way and eventually it was supported by local business and government. Now it's beyond a trend; it has become a way of life. If you are out there in one of those communities where these types of products are being used, start a revolution! It just takes one person at a time. Ask your local stores to recycle, complain to them about the use of styrofoam or other products that leach unwanted chemicals in our bodies and the earth, and request that they begin to support healthier options.

For more tips on how to avoid styrofoam use in your daily life:

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