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Paper Vs. Styrofoam

Sue Stepp

People in restaurants and homes use paper products and Styrofoam for many uses. People wrap and serve food, insulate homes and package items using paper or Styrofoam, but which is better? Both products have many uses, but Styrofoam isn’t renewable. People recycle or compost paper products easily, so paper has a lighter impact on the environment. Look at the facts, and decide which product is better.

Eating and Drinking

Paper plates are generally easier to recycle than Styrofoam ones.

Paper plates work well for foods like sandwiches, but moist foods with gravies and sauces make paper plates soggy. Soggy paper plates lose strength, and the plate tears or juices seep through the plate. Styrofoam plates work well for moist or dry foods, and the plate stays firm even with moist foods. Hot foods melt the Styrofoam, but paper plates take high temperatures easily, as long as it’s a dry food like pizza or fried chicken.


Food heated in microwaves gets hot, and paper accepts high heat easily. Styrofoam isn’t recommended for microwaves. The Styrofoam melts, and causes toxic fumes that are carcinogens. After the food cooks on Styrofoam, it gets an odd plastic flavor. Styrofoam in landfills slowly erodes, and styrene from the foam leaches into water table. Styrofoam cups and plates contain Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA causes health problems such as hyperactivity, brain damage, obesity and disrupted reproductive cycles. Heating the Styrofoam releases the BPA into foods or drinks.

Uses for Paper and Styrofoam

People use Styrofoam and paper for insulation. Styrofoam sheets work well for wall insulation, and newspaper is recycled into a fireproof blown insulation for attics. The walls of coolers, refrigerators and freezers contain Styrofoam for insulation. Paper or cardboard boxes work for storage, moving, food storage and as serving containers for food at restaurants. People wrap foods in paper and Styrofoam containers.

Renewable vs. Non-renewable

Paper is renewable, and is easily recycled. Paper doesn’t emit dangerous fumes into the air during the recycling process. People compost paper, use paper in gardens for blocking weeds and use paper for making paper mache. Styrofoam isn’t recyclable, and it fills landfills. Styrofoam is of lighter weight than paper, so the shipping cost of Styrofoam makes it cost less than paper for many restaurants and manufacturers.