An endless line of tiny fragments of EPS along the high tide mark litters most Durban beaches.
It becomes more noticeable when summer rains flush storm-water drains and roads and deposit a white carpet of polystyrene along the coastline.
Cohen said this was just the tip of the iceberg, as millions of pieces lay buried beneath the beach sand, in rivers and estuaries or were drifting out at sea.
Cohen said problematic products made from EPS include fast food containers, disposable cups and packaging trays that hold meat, fruit and vegetables.
“Many Durbanites are unaware of the impact of EPS and enjoy the material because it is cheap, light, insulating and disposable. However, it has a dark side.
“Because it is so light, easily fragments, and is most often used outdoors, it gets into the environment easily and is one of most mismanaged items of waste in the city, and indeed globally,” he said.
EPS is almost impossible to clean up once in the environment.
“Ask the army of municipal beach cleaners and folk at #cleanbluelagoon, who battle this scourge on an ongoing basis. Once in the environment, the cups, trays and burger clam shells quickly break up into tiny pieces which attract other toxins and are mistaken for food by birds, fish and other marine life.
“Scientific studies show that micro-plastic are being ingested by marine life in Durban’s coastal waters,” he said.
Although EPS can technically be recycled, the technology is of no use if the litter is evading collection systems, which is being exacerbated by the uncertain economics of EPS recycling in South Africa.
EPS is also a threat to human health. Polystyrene products are made from styrene, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin that can leach into hot, greasy food.
EPS can be dangerous because it emits toxic chemicals when the containers are burned, and rubbish is routinely burned in informal settlements and outer areas of eThekwini.
“The good news is that we don’t really need EPS in our lives. Re-usable cups and containers are light and affordable for everyone and just require the self-discipline to carry these.
“There are also a number of other foodware materials that vendors can use that are less harmful on the environment, including recycled cardboard and paper pulp, other safer and more manageable plastic polymers and home-compostable containers made from renewable biomass such as sugar cane.
“The cost to Durbanites caused by the impacts from EPS far outweigh the supposed benefits of its momentary additional convenience. We need you to change the status quo in Durban!” he said.
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