Just a month ago, I was served some wonderful satay at East Coast on a styrofoam plate. I picked up a skewer and to my horror and disgust, I found that the hot grilled meat had melted a few holes in the styrofoam. I had to throw away the satay that caused the melted plate because I would feel uneasy about eating that contaminated skewer.
Speaking of taking little steps to effect great change, instead of paying so much attention to plastic bags, one thing Singapore should ban completely is single-use styrofoam plates, takeaway boxes and cups. I literally hear NOTHING from the public in support for these type of containers as we all know it is harmful to our health. Most complaints seem come from hawkers that wish to continue using it because it is cheaper, but I have very good reasons as you will find below on why even hawkers should ban the nasty stuff.
What is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is the trade name for polystyrene foam, a product used for housing insulation. Polystyrene is actually just another type of plastic. Air is introduced into it to make lightweight styrofoam, it is about 95% air.
The polystyrene manufacturing process is the 5th largest creator of hazardous waste. The process of making polystyrene pollutes the air and creates large amounts of liquid and solid waste. Polystyrene is manufactured with HCFC-22, a green house gas that affects the ozone layer, and petroleum, a non-sustainable and highly polluting resource. HCFC-22, a type of CFC, depletes the earth’s ozone shield 10 miles or higher in the sky. Polystyrene foam food packaging, which was made with CFCs in the U.S., released 3.9 tons of CFCs in 1985 and nonfood-related polystyrene materials released an additional 3.9 tons.
Styrofoam sitting in the landfill may take 500 years to decompose and releases methane gases that have over 20 times the ozone destroying potency as CO2.
Not to mention, it is 100% non-recyclable! The only way to get rid of it is by burning it, thus releasing even more toxic chemicals in our air.
Sure, we can’t make too much of an impact on the environment all by ourselves right? So let’s hear the really scary stuffs that impacts our health.
Because polyesterene foam is mixed with air, it actually can’t take heat at all because it is so thin and degradable. Hot foods and liquids and acidic food actually start a breakdown process of the Styrofoam which absorbs into the food and cause toxins to be absorbed into our bloodstream and tissue. Polystyrene foam contains the chemical styrene, which has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration, and nervous system effects. (Source) Think about that takeaway hot cup of coffee or Milo in styrofoam! I always see a thin film forming on the surface which never happens in my mug. Would you like to hazard a guess as to what that is?
Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority says that the proper use of styrofoam containers is thus crucial in ensuring safety. Boiling hot or hot oily foods should be cooled slightly, and excess oil from fried foods drained, before placing them in styrofoam containers.
However, how many cooks do we know that actually does that? Whether it is freshly deep-fried chicken or French fries or rice, they will just dump it into a styrofoam box and serve that to you.
SINGAPORE Should Lead When it Comes to Banning Styrofoam
A number of cities around the world, including Penang in Malaysia, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle in the United States, have already implemented bans on polystyrene foam packaging.
Singapore should be the first city-state to implement such a ban and make us a role model.
So, Why Should Hawkers Be Onboard?
Firstly, they are bulky, albeit light, as they don’t stack well. They take up a lot of space in small hawker stalls where space is a premium. Being light is also a problem. A gust of wind always blows over my plate of unfinished fried beehoon and it spills over the table, floor or on me. It is a cleanup nightmare.
Secondly, they are unhealthy and scares off health-conscious customers. As a customer, I will never go back to the stall that served me hot food if I see that it has melted the plate or box. Even if they do not visibly show melting, toxins will still leach into the food because it is hot, acidic or oily.
Thirdly, styrofoam makes food taste bland! The flavour molecules tend to get absorbed into styrofoam like a sponge. That’s why takeaway food in such packaging always seems to taste poorer.
Lastly, the cost concern is actually inflated. The only reason why styrofoam is cheap is because many people are using it. We all know about the economics of scale right? If the whole of Singapore switch to paper packaging, it will bring the costs of these type of packaging down.
What Actions Can We Take?
Try to bring your own takeaway container or tumbler. They are ultimately healthier than any kind of single-use plastic or plastic-lined paper. I always choose ceramic, glass or metal containers.
Support businesses who use more eco-friendly disposable packaging while vocally speaking out against those who don’t. A simple comment like, “Oh why don’t you use paper boxes?” while ordering your economic rice speaks volumes.