Of all the products invented during the 20th century, foam padding has become prominently used in our personal and commercial lives. Foam is created by trapping gas bubbles in liquids or solids, with some foams hardening around porous cavities, and others remaining flexible, as in foam sprays. Without foam padding, think about what it would be like to sleep on a straw mattress or a hard pillow. How about wooden seats in your convertible or clay packing in the walls of your home for insulation? All types of foam padding have taken their place in this century’s convenience inventions.
According to utilitystructural.com, the first polyurethane foams were created in the 1930s for such uses as coatings, paint brush bristles and insulation. Over the past 75 years, the use of foam has become very commonplace around the world with many variations on its chemical properties and uses.
Polyurethane is used in upholstery, surf boards, carpet padding, flotation devices, and household and sports comforts. If you want to make your home more "green," consider purchasing bonded urethane carpet padding, which is made from reclaimed scraps of auto and furniture foam. Polyimide and melamine foam insulation are used on products that reach high temperatures, such as the seal on your self-cleaning oven. They are valued for their non-flammable properties. Protein foams are used for their fire-fighting qualities and ability to biodegrade. Styrofoam is most commonly used for packaging because of its seeming weightlessness.
Manufacturers of foam products supply the needs of many industries. A few examples include hospitals for knee and neck braces, automobile manufacturers for gaskets, shipping companies for popcorn and form-fitted packaging, home construction and remodeling for wall and attic insulation, recording studios for acoustical control, and the military for firearm holster padding and protective garments.
As industries rely on the use of foam pads, the non-biodegradable characteristic of most foam may present a real challenge to landfills. Also of great concern are the chlorofluorocarbons released during manufacturing that may deplete the earth’s ozone layer. OSHA has labeled methylene chloride, which is used to produce a softer foam, as a potential carcinogen. OSHA set strict standards limiting employees' exposure to its airborne particles.
In a world striving to be more environmentally conscious, and to survive in future markets, manufacturers should look for technological advancements that will increase the biodegradable and protein-based vs. chemical-based properties of foam products.