Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups each year. Styrofoam is NOT recyclable; it cannot be made into new Styrofoam. However, there may be an alternative: biodegradable Styrofoam made from milk and clay. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio have successfully created an eco-friendly alternative to one of the most hazardous detriments to our planet.
Commercially viable and largely biodegradable, "Milk Styrofoam," as it is being called in the eco-blogosphere, decomposes in a month's time. Conversely, traditional Styrofoam takes over a thousand years to decompose.
Scientist strengthened a cow milk protein, casein, with clay and glyceraldehyde (a triose monosaccharide). They chose casein, already popular for use in adhesives, because it is water soluble. Alone, casein is not ideal for packaging, but mixing it with the other two ingredients and freeze drying that mixture creates an aerogel, which is then baked in an oven to create a substance comparable to traditional Styrofoam.
Milk Styrofoam is sturdy, lightweight, and largely biodegradable. The material is not yet mainstream as researchers are still working out practical and technological kinks. However, different variations of the Milk Styrofoam will hopefully be used as packaging, furniture, insulation, as well as cushions.