Chemistry Question #2318

petra, a 16 year old female from chamblee asks on October 17, 2004,

How long does it take styrofoam to decompose? Are there chemicals that help to cause the decomposition of styrofoam? Are any of these chemicals "earth safe"? What is the chemical composition of styrofoam? Very briefly, what is the nature of the chemical reactions that cause degradation? What chemicals can be used to cause a noticible decomposition of styrofoam in a short time period? Without using such chemicals, how long would it take for the styrofoam to break down on its own?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on December 24, 2004

A quick web search shows the answer is: it depends. If the styrofoam is buried in an anaerobic (no air) environment, maybe it will last a million years. However, if it is exposed to the sun, or if it is floating in the ocean waves it might only last a few years.

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