Positive Coverage on EPS – New Study Debunks “Forever” Myth

Last month we received a message from our friends at the EPS-Industry Alliance titled, Positive Coverage on EPS – New Study Debunks “Forever” Myth.

In an ongoing partnership to showcase the benefits of using polystyrene, we are excited to further promote not only the article and American Chemical Society, but the findings associated. Please take the time to read the following:

A newly released study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the world’s leading ocean research organization, shows that sunlight can naturally degrade polystyrene in just decades or centuries.

This research thoroughly debunks the common argument that PS “lasts forever” in the environment. Sunlight Converts Polystyrene to Carbon Dioxide and Dissolved Organic Carbon was published today in Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

And there’s more good news from the study – sunlight doesn’t cause PS to just physically break down, it also causes it to degrade chemically.

Using a sun-simulating lamp the WHOI scientists found they could chemically degrade polystyrene slowly, releasing organic carbon and trace amounts of carbon dioxide. The scientists believe for latitudes from the equator to the southern border of Canada (0° to 50° N), this degradation process would take decades. For complete oxidation to carbon dioxide, it would take centuries.

Past studies have focused on the role microbes play in degrading PS, rather than considering other factors like sunlight. While microbes would eat plastic, they can be selective, and the complex and bulky structure of PS makes it unappealing for bacteria. WHOI lead research Dr. Collin Ward says, “Although the ring-based backbone of polystyrene makes it a difficult target for microbes, it’s the perfect shape and size to catch certain frequencies of sunlight.”

The study also found that additives (such as color) play a major role in breakdown as they absorb different frequencies of sunlight, which influences how fast the PS breaks down.

EPS-IA will develop messaging around this exciting new study. Stay tuned for updates.