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This fact sheet, published by the Polystyrene Packaging Council and its members, presents the facts about polystyrene. This information should help you gain a deeper understanding of why polystyrene is the best choice for food service packaging.

What is Inside?

Styrene, a petroleum by-product, is the primary raw material from which polystyrene is made. Styrene, first commercially produced in the 1930s, played an important role during World War II in the production of synthetic rubber. After the war, much of the use of styrene shifted to the manufacture of commercial polystyrene products. Synthetic styrene is also used in the manufacture of products such as automobile parts, electronic components, boats, recreational vehicles, and synthetic rubbers. Today, you or a member of your family will probably use a product derived from styrene.

Modern man has known about styrene for centuries. A naturally occurring substance, styrene is present in many foods and beverages, including wheat, beef, strawberries, peanuts and coffee beans. Also found in the spice cinnamon, its chemical structure is similar to cinnamic Alde Hyde, the chemical component that elicits cinnamon's flavor. It is naturally present to flavor foods, and is used as a flavoring additive to such food as baked goods, frozen dairy products, soft candy, and gelatins and puddings, with permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Polystyrene Packaging Council works closely with the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), whose mission is to collect, develop, analyze and communicate pertinent information on styrene. Since 1987, SIRC has undertaken a comprehensive research program to enhance understanding of styrene's potential to affect human health and the environment.

Polystyrene meets stringent U.S. FDA standards for use in food contact packaging and is safe for consumers. Health organizations encourage the use of single-use food service products, including polystyrene, because they provide increased food safety.

All packaging (glass, aluminum, paper, and plastic - including polystyrene) contains substances that can "migrate," or transfer, to foods or beverages. The FDA regulates residual levels of these components in food packaging to ensure that packaging is safe to use.

What is Not Inside?

Polystyrene foam products are 95 percent air and only five percent polystyrene. When polystyrene foam packaging is produced, a blowing agent is used in the process. Most polystyrene foam products never were made using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a blowing agent. The few polystyrene products that were made with CFCs comprised a very small portion of the nation's CFC use. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only two to three percent of CFCs used in the United States in the 1980s went toward production of polystyrene packaging products. At the forefront of U.S. industry, polystyrene manufacturers exceeded government goals and timetables during the phase out period of CFCs in the late 1980s.

Polystyrene foam products are now manufactured primarily using two types of blowing agents: Pentane and Carbon Dioxide.

Pentane gas has no effect on the upper ozone layer, although, if not recovered, it can contribute to low-level smog formation. Therefore, manufacturers use state-of-the-art technology to capture pentane emissions.

With ever-evolving technology, some manufacturers use carbon dioxide (CO2 or other hydrocarbons in some cases) as an expansion agent for polystyrene foam. CO2 is non-toxic, non-flammable, does not contribute to low-level smog, and has no stratospheric ozone depletion potential. In addition, the carbon dioxide used for this technology is recovered from existing commercial and natural sources. As a result, the use of this blowing agent technology does not increase the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.


1) "Disposables versus Reusable's: A Study of Comparative Sanitary Quality," Dairy Food and Sanitation, Jan, 1985; "Utensil Sanitation: A Microbiological Study of Disposables and Reusable's," Charles W. Felix, et al, Sept./Oct. 1990.

2) "Single Service and Solid Waste" Resolution, National Environmental Health Assn. Board of Directors, June 1991.

3) "Waste Management and Reduction Trends in the Polystyrene Industry, 1974-1997," Franklin Associates, Aug. 1999.

4) "Municipal Solid Waste in the United States 1999 Facts and Figures," prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Franklin Associates Ltd., July 2001.

(5) "Rubbish! The Archeology of Garbage," William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, 1989.

6) "Petroleum Supply Annual -- 1997," U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, June 1998 and "Annual Energy Review -- 1997," U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, July 1998.

7) See: FDA's Food Additive Regulation at 21 CFR 172.515

(8) "Disposables versus Reusable's: A Study of Comparative Sanitary Quality," Dairy Food and Sanitation, Jan. 1985.

(9) "Statement of Support for The Foodservice Packaging Institute's Fully Halogenated Chlorofluorocarbon Voluntary Phase-out Program," Natural Resources Defense Council/Environmental Defense Fund/Friends of the Earth, April 1988.