Tips for Adults

Carry a Reusable Cup

Plastic litter is everywhere: a cigarette butt dropped in the street, a plastic bottle label that slipped off, a piece of a foam food container blown in the wind, gum wrappers and bottle caps too small for anyone to notice. All of this washes down storm drains and into the the streams, rivers, and bays of our area.

This plastic litter slowly degrades into smaller pieces and eventually into microplastics. Of the microplastics in our waters, plastic foam litter, like Styrofoam, makes up more than 1/3rd of the total. All this dangerous litter is from foam cups, foam to-go containers, foam packing peanuts and other sources that are not disposed of properly. What makes foam particularly problematic is that it cannot be easily recycled, the vast majority of the foam cups and to-go containers either end up in a landfill or washing down into our waters.

One small thing you can do to help reduce the amount of foam in our waters is to stop using it! By carrying your own reusable cup, you can cut down on the amount of foam that that is produced and that has to be disposed of in some way. You can also cut down on foam by choosing biodegradable alternatives when purchasing plates and cups for your picnic or grilling out.


Plastics are Entering the Oceans at an Alarming Rate

A recent scientific study states, “Our estimate of plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally” (Science, 2015 also Ocean Conservancy, 2015).

Debris on Dauphin Island Beach - Photo by Caitlin Wessel

Plastic Foam Does Not Biodegrade

When pieces of plastic foam (such as polystyrene) enter our waterways, wind and waves break them into smaller and smaller pieces until they are almost invisible to the naked eye. These microplastics (any plastic piece less than 5mm in size) can be ingested by a variety of marine life including invertebrates (e.g., oysters, mussels) and fish that feed on plankton and other microparticulates. The plastic can cause direct and indirect damage to these organisms leading to losses in important species in the ecosystem. Also the chemicals from which the plastics are derived can have negative impacts on marine organisms, causing toxicity and disruption to reproduction, which has significant implications for the entire food web (Algalita, 2015).

Photo by Phyrexian - CC BY-SA 3.0

More than 50,000 Foam Cups and Plates Recovered in 2015

In 2015 as part of the International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers recovered over 57,193 plastic cups and plates the majority of which were made from EPS foam (Ocean Conservancy, 2016).

Polystyrene Found in Marine Animal Intestines

Polystyrene foam is often found lodged in the intestines of marine animals causing blockages from eating the wrong thing. This often leads to death. (BBC, 2015)

EPS foam fragments recovered from Dauphin Island. Picture by Caitlin Wessel

Things You Can Do

Carry Your Own Reusable Cup

Keep a travel mug for hot drinks and a plastic tumbler for cold drinks and ask your server to fill it. When you forget to bring your own, ask for a ceramic cup or biodegradable cup instead of foam plastic.

Contigo Autoseal Stainless Steel Travel Mug (Amazon)

Put Foam Cups In the Trash

Make sure all foam cups are securely put in the trash can. Keeping them off the ground, will help keep them out of our waters.

Organize to Ban EPS Foam

States and municipalities all across the globe have required fees or banned EPS foam due to the negative effect on the environment. Join with others in your community to ban this product from use in your area (Groundswell, 2015).

map of cities and states who have banned the use of EPS Foam from Groundswell

Recycle Foam Cups & Packaging

While Chick-fil-A™ is already doing this in many of their stores, if your favorite restaurant that uses foam cups and doesn’t yet offer a recycling option, start a campaign to ask that they do. Many recycling centers and shipping stores offer recycling for foam peanuts.

Spend Time Near or on the Water

You care for what you love. Fishing, kayaking, swimming, attending a water festival, or just exploring your stream, estuary, bay or beach connects you in a way that will make you want to protect it even more. So make plans to get on the water.

Use Biodegradable Alternatives When Picnicking

While foam cups and plates can be very cheap, the toll they can have on our waters is not worth the risk. Buy biodegradable alternatives, or better yet, use real dishes that you can clean and reuse when grilling out or picnicking.

100% Biodegradable Plates (Amazon)

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