Styrofoam is one of the most dangerous waste on this planet, but on the other hand also one of the least exposed about in popular medias. The problem is, because of that little expose, people keep using them in daily basis.
The thing is, we actually have the alternative for plastic Styrofoam already that’s not only far better for the environment but also has a lot other benefit. The alternative that we are talking about is algae foam, which is literally made from algae.
Algae foam is not only biodegradable, it can also solve the algae bloom problem that is getting more and more common nowadays. Thus, it is like killing two birds with only one stone: we can get the better alternative for plastic Styrofoam, and we can eliminate algae bloom.
Want to know more about it? Here in this article, we are going to talk about it.
The Dangerous Styrofoam
Styrofoam is created from polystyrene and other kinds of plastic that cannot break down easily in the nature. In fact, Styrofoam can take up to 1 million years to decompose completely, which is almost like the amount of time needed to turn dinosaur bodies to oil and coals.
This is because the atoms in Styrofoam is very stable, and each is bonded perfectly to another. This is the reason why Styrofoam is able to resist chemicals and corrosive substances like salts, bases, and acids. Let alone water.
It means that Styrofoam, once being released into the nature, will stay there and become part of it. Oh, sorry, we don’t mean ‘part’ like how our body has limbs, but like how cancer develops in a human’s body. Styrofoam is basically a kind of ‘environmental cancer’ this way.
But what can we do if in fact Styrofoam is needed in some appliances such as packaging goods and shipment? Styrofoam is chosen because it is flexible, light, yet able to hold its form even under great pressure and shocks during shipment.
Maybe that’s the reason why Styrofoam is littering this earth and filling up 30% of landfills all around the world. The consumption rate is increasing even more during the coronavirus pandemic because online shopping became more common activity. Is there a way to solve this problem?
Yes, we love green environment. But let us tell you that not all ‘green’ is actually good, especially when it happens to our water bodies. Green water means it contains a lot of algae, and if the condition is pretty severe you can even see the algae are floating above the water.
This condition is called algae bloom, and this can be dangerous to our environment. The cover above the surface can prevent sunlight from entering the water. For underwater plants that can contribute a lot to underwater environment, that’s already a bad idea.
Let alone when dense algae blooms die, the decomposing bacteria steals oxygen in the water. And without oxygen, fish, animals, and other living things in the waters suffocate. Worse, it can become a dead zone.
Dead zones are water areas that doesn’t have enough oxygen to support life, thus, marine organisms prefer to move away from that zone. That’s why, you will not find any marine organism to fish in those areas, both because there are not enough of them living there and those who live there are already dead.
The increase of ocean dead zones number is so rapid nowadays, a study conducted in 2003 found out that there were ‘only’ 146 dead zones in the world’s ocean. But another study conducted in 2008 found out that the number has reached more than 400. How do we fix them?
The Algae Foam
One of the best methods to fix both problems stated above is by making sure that we don’t use plastic Styrofoam anymore and look for alternatives of it that can also help the environment. While we have plenty of algae floating in our waters, can we make use of it to replace Styrofoam?
Yes, we can. Researchers at Algenesis and UC San Diego have thought about this and decided to work together in a study. The study aimed to develop a green solution to our earth’s growing plastic problem and the answer is algae.
“The paper shows that we can develop commercial-quality foams that biodegrade in the natural environment,” Stephen Mayfield—CEO of Algenesis and the senior author on the paper said. “After hundreds of formulations, we finally achieved one that met commercial specifications.”
The commercial quality foam is almost similar to the Styrofoam we know, but can biodegrade in less time. “These foams are 52 percent bio content—eventually, we’ll get to 100 percent bio content,” Mayfield explained.
And just like what it’s supposed to do, it can be used in many ways. Mayfield explained it can be used in building insulations, foam cushioning in shoes, bedding, and automobiles, surfboards, skateboard wheels, and many other products.
More Than Styrofoam Alternative
The innovation from algae might sound a little bit too ordinary. Styrofoam is nothing too special because we usually get it free from purchasing stuff such as electronics or from any other sources. However, as mentioned above, we have serious Styrofoam problem.
With the invention of algae-based Styrofoam, and its various other uses, we can at least repress the use of plastic Styrofoam. Even though it doesn’t mean that we solve the problem, but such kind of innovation proves that the change actually exists and we want to change.
“People are coming around on ocean plastic pollution and starting to demand products that can address what has become an environmental disaster. We happen to be at the right place at the right time,” Tom Cooke, President of Algenesis, stated.
In the future, this algae Styrofoam is projected to be accessible to everyone all around the world. That’s the reason why this research brings a mission to make the Styrofoam from algae commercial just like ordinary Styrofoam.
While the researchers are still doing their job in creating the biodegradable Styrofoam, what can we do? Of course, we can help by not consuming Styrofoam recklessly.