Sponsored By
Clare Goldsberry

April 25, 2016

3 Min Read
Consumers can be confident in the safety of polystyrene food packaging

The American Chemistry Council (ACC; Washington, DC) offered up a science lesson in a press release late last week assuring consumers that they can be confident that their food packaging is safe. Styrene is not to be confused with polystyrene, stressed the ACC. “Styrene is a liquid substance used to make polystyrene, an inert plastic used to make many consumer products,” wrote the ACC. “There should be no confusion between styrene and polystyrene; these are two different materials.”

Image courtesy Winnond/
freedigitalphotos.net.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has added styrene to its Proposition 65 list, pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. In response, the ACC’s Senior Director for Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, Mike Levy, issued a statement highlighting the differences between these two materials and the safety of polystyrene foodservice packaging.

“Consumers can be confident that California’s Proposition 65 action on styrene does not affect the decades-long safety assessments of polystyrene packaging used for foodservice. For more than 50 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that polystyrene is safe for use in foodservice packaging, and regulatory bodies around the world agree, including the European Commission/European Food Safety Authority,” said Levy.

“There are important and obvious differences between styrene and polystyrene. They are fundamentally unalike and display distinctly different properties. Styrene is a raw material used to create high-performance plastics, car tires, carpet backing and reinforced fiberglass composites, such as those used in bathtubs, automobile body panels and wind turbines. Once these products are manufactured they are inert.

“Officials in California said their decision to add styrene to the Prop 65 list was based on styrene’s listing in the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 12th Report on Carcinogens in 2011. California officials determined that NTP’s listing merits a Prop 65 listing. NTP does not question the safety of polystyrene food service packaging. As the NTP director was widely quoted: ‘In finished products, certainly styrene is not an issue.’”

While science lessons from the plastics industry aren’t typically given much credence—and certainly not much media attention—it’s at least an attempt to differentiate science from hype. It’s good to see the ACC stepping up to the plate with scientific information from which consumers can benefit . . . if they take the time to read it.

Levy continued by stating: “Polystyrene is an FDA-approved and hygienic material of choice for foodservice packaging to serve foods in schools, hospitals, restaurants, food carts and sports stadiums. Its inherent insulation properties maintain food temperatures and help keep food fresh, hot or cold and ready-to-eat. Polystyrene is also used in a variety of other everyday consumer products such as cushioning for shipping delicate electronics, energy-saving insulation, kitchen appliances, smoke detectors and toys.”

Most consumers are not even aware of the many benefits that plastic provides in the thousands of products we use every day. Recently, I was talking to some plastics people at a meeting about this topic, and one person said whenever people start bashing plastics around him, he tells them that the next time they have to go the hospital they should request that nothing containing plastics should be used on them. (On a related note, PlasticsToday posted a video recently produced by the PVC Med Alliance that answers the question, “Why is there so much plastic in the hospital room?”) We in the industry need to be proactive in promoting the benefits of plastic materials and help improve the industry’s image.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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