The Malaysian Plastics Forum - comprising the Malaysian Petrochemicals Association, the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association and the Plastics Resins Producers Group, have commented on articles about banning the use of polystyrene materials. Polystyrene comes in many shapes and forms and has excellent thermal-insulating ability. It keeps hot food hot and cold food cold, while you hold the package in comfort. All packaging (glass, aluminium, paper and plastics, including polystyrene) contains substances that can migrate or transfer to food or beverages. The United States' Food and Drug Administration regulates residual levels of these components in food packaging to ensure that packaging is safe to use.
The US Plastics Food Service Packaging Group, which works with the US Styrene Information and Research Centre, confirms in a report that polystyrene meets FDA standards for use in food-contact packaging and is safe for consumers. Health organisations encourage the use of single-use food-service products, including polystyrene, because they provide increased food safety.
The Japan Hygienic Olefin and Styrene Plastics Association confirm that polystyrene resins can be safely used as components of articles intended for use in contact with food. In addition, polystyrene foam box is safe and has been certified under the Malaysian Food Act 1983 (Act 281) and Regulations by Sirim Qas International.
On claims that plastics contain dioxins, the FDA has seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins. Furthermore, based on a recent study done in Europe, polystyrene is found to be safe for human health and does not pose any risk associated with exposure to carcinogens.
In determining which materials to use as alternative resins for food-packaging use, it is important to objectively weigh the pros and cons of costs (that is, inflationary effects) and the life cycle analysis (LCA) impact on the environment.
An LCA report and its findings can be used to demonstrate that an environmental-impact analysis needs to take into account the entire picture, and when dealing with a product that is likely to be replaced by another, the trade-offs in the environmental impact of the replaced alternative should also be given a critical analysis.
It is relevant to note that "biodegradable" plastics made from biomass sources do pose environmental issues when based on an LCA approach. For example, the process of growing the biomass source involves the use of fertilisers, weedkillers, pesticides, arable land and fresh water, all of which have an impact on the environment.
The eventual decomposting of the biomass source (leaves and stems) does contribute to global warming through the release of methane (which is 22 times more harmful than carbon dioxide). The substitution of food for biofuel and bioplastics has had adverse impact on food prices that have created hardship for the poor.
It is, therefore, critical that a holistic approach be adopted on this matter.
Given the above, consumers can be assured that the use of polystyrene in food packaging is environmentally sound and medically safe. To promote the recycling of polystyrene, proper infrastructure must be in place to boost the level of awareness of recycling.