It depends on the temperature it is burned at. If polystyrene, the material that makes up styrofoam, is properly incinerated at high temperatures, the chemicals generated are water, carbon dioxide, a complex mixture of volatile compounds, and carbon soot.
However, when burned without enough oxygen or at lower temperatures (as in a campfire or a household fireplace), polystyrene can produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, caarbon black, and carbon monoxide along with styrene monomers-all very toxic to the environment.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligence, Styrofoam is an “environmental evil,” not only because it “gives off more than 90 different hazardous chemicals” like Styrene vapors and dioxins, it also takes 500 years for one Styrofoam cup to break down. A 2003 study performed by Andrea Kremer and Rachel Pinderhughes noted the surprising results of the rate of Styrofoam decomposition; surprising only because Styrofoam breaks into pieces so easily. The study also states that our national average of waste production is 547,945 tons a day, and “0.25 percent of that total weight is Styrofoam” (Seattle P-I). That 0.25 % actually equates to 1,369 tons of Styrofoam everyday, which is all the more disturbing because Styrofoam is such a light weight substance. Styrofoam also amounts to 25-30% of landfill space in the USA. the study also approximates there are “over 25 million Styrofoam cups thrown away each year” (Seattle P-I). Products such as Eco-Foam and Bio-Pak Kraft Boxes are excellent alternatives to Styrofoam.
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