Last September, volunteers rolled up their sleeves, made their way to Downtown Orlando’s Lake Concord on a hot Sunday morning and spent hours pulling litter from the shore, filling garbage bags with 850 gallons of trash.
What these sustainability activists are trying to rid Orlando of is stretched polystyrene — branded as its more common name, Styrofoam.
The No Foam Zone campaign, which has 1,500 signatures on its Change.org petition, is pushing to ban single-use Styrofoam containers from Orlando.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 25 billion Styrofoam cups are thrown away each year in the United States.
Normally used as material for disposable to-go containers and one-time-use coffee cups, the material is actually an expanded form of a petroleum-based plastic.
Spearheading the No Foam Zone initiative is Eric Rollings, chairman of the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation, Seat 4.
“It was absolutely disgusting,” Rollings said, remembering the amount of foam that lined the shores of the lake. That sight, he said, was the catalyst in motivating him to start the campaign. “We couldn’t believe that The City Beautiful had so much waste … until you were down in the trenches and saw what was going on.
“The thing is that [Styrofoam] gets stuck in between the shore and the bushes and the trees. It never leaves, it never degrades — you can’t recycle it.”
Time passes and weathering causes the foam to form into small pellets that turtles, fish and birds mistake for snail eggs or other sources of food.
But because the material is indigestible, the fish become buoyant, float and die. Birds then eat the fish, and the cycle continues, Rollings explained.
Emily Dovydaitis, the SGA Health & Sustainability coordinator, is rallying up support from UCF.
Dovydaitis pioneered an effort to fill the Reflecting Pond with thousands of plastic water bottles last April to spur awareness of the number of bottles used on campus.
In August, SGA senators voted unanimously in favor of a resolution in support of the initiative.
“I’d like [students] to really know how it can benefit their health and the environment’s health, and it’s going improve the future outlook of Orlando. ... Because you won’t be putting the carcinogens of polystyrene into your body,” she said.
Dovydaitis, a junior biology and anthropology major, is referring to the compounds that make up the material — benzene and styrene, which some institutions, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization, deem carcinogenic, or having the potential to cause cancer.
Rollings said he hopes that, if the concept manifests in Orlando, foam would instead be replaced with more compostable material, such as biodegradable plastics derived from plants or recyclable cardboard made from processed sugar cane stalks.
“If we could cut down 90 percent, that would help,” he said.
Though these alternatives may seem obscure, Lisa Ray, associate supervisor of Soil and Water Conservation, said some Orlando-area restaurants have already been using them.
“You have to build enough citizens to talk about it and sign petitions so that government officials know that it’s a serious issue and that people are concerned about it,” Ray said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, build a grassroots effort so that city commissioners know that we are concerned about the lakes and the health of our citizens.”
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.