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After polythene, environmentalists now want to regulate thermocol

 While the banned polythene is still merrily finding its way into the district and ending up in heaps of garbage, clogging drains or littering forest floors, polystyrene, commonly called thermocol, has started adding to the woes of environmentalists.

Polystyrene, which is another cheap petrochemical, is a synthetic polymer made from styrene, a very inexpensive resin. The chemical can be foamed by pumping in air and moulding it to get the desired shape and strength. Most polystyrenes that is found in the market is in the form of packaging material, but of late, markets have been flooded with disposable plates, tumblers and trays of varying shapes and sizes.

A local shopkeeper said he sells nearly a quintal of disposable plates and tumblers every day, while the sale almost triples during marriage season or festivals.

According to R Sapatia, who runs an inorganic chemical manufacturing unit at Mehatpur Industrial area: “Like polythene, polystyrene is also very hard to degrade naturally. It is chemically very inert, which means it is resistant to acids and bases, chlorinated liquids and other solvents. Since it is resistant to water, it does not allow rain water to seep into the underground aquifer. The deposition of polystyrene on the open soil is therefore dangerous for the sustainability of environment.”

The common trend in households and marriage palaces is to burn discarded polystyrene, as it almost vanishes into the air when burnt. The by-products of burning polystyrene are carbon dioxide, water and heat. However, since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse enabling gas, environmentalists do not approve burning it. It is also reported that styrene, the raw material used to make polystyrene, is a cancer-causing agent.The management of waste polystyrene is a growing cause of concern for municipal committees and nagar panchayats.

Dr Shrawan Kumar, Executive Engineer at the Pollution Control Board office in Una, said: “So far, there is no regulation to check the use of polystyrene.” Admitting that it causes pollution, he suggested its recycling, which he said was beyond their scope. 

The hazards

  • Like polythene, polystyrene (thermocol) is very hard to degrade naturally
  • It is chemically very inert, which means it is resistant to acids, bases, chlorinated liquids and other solvents
  • Since it is resistant to water, it does not allow rainwater to seep into the underground aquifer
  • The deposition of polystyrene on the soil is dangerous for the sustainability of environment
  • Styrene, the raw material used to make polystyrene, is a cancer-causing agent


17/06/2014, The Tribune