By Liesl Clark
This weekend is one of 2 weekends each year we can recycle styrofoam on our little Puget Sound island. Our favorite store on the island, Bay Hay and Feed (a feed store of course,) will accept clean block styrofoam from islanders who have stockpiled it over the past 6 months. They chose this weekend in particular because it’s just after the holidays and we’ve likely accumulated some of the white stuff. I have. Until Bay Hay took this lofty community project on, the nearest recycling facility was Styro Recycle in Renton, WA, some 28.5 miles and a ferry ride away.
I know too much about styrofoam to let this waste-type go into our Trash Backwards database without serious comment. Did you know that the levels of toxicity for styrofoam, clean and on the shelf at a store, are quite similar to the toxicity of styrofoam that has been floating in the oceans for years, accumulating persistent organic pollutants like DDT and PCBs. Styrofoam is among the top plastics, by type, found in our oceans.
Above, is a photograph for you of a “core sample” of the wrack line of our favorite beach. We put the stuff in a jar for attendees of our presentations and exhibits to see for themselves just how much foam has become a part of our beach-scape. Easily, over 50% of what’s there are broken up bits of styrofoam. When you walk on the upper shoreline of our little beach, it feels like a gym mat. So, why is styrofoam so hard to recycle?
It’s made of 98% air and 2% polystyrene. For someone who is taking the effort to melt it down to recover the 2% polystyrene in there, you need a LOT of foam. It’s extremely bulky and lightweight, too. Imagine the challenges in transporting the stuff. A truckload likely doesn’t give you much recovered plastic in the end. And the machine that compresses the styrofoam so it can be melted down is quite expensive, some $20,000. Here’s a little more information about why styrofoam is so hard to recycle. And here’s a great video showing you how styrofoam is actually recycled. It looks like a machine the Onceler might’ve designed for the precious thneeds in the Lorax’s neighborhood.
If you’ve found some large chunks of styrofoam on your beach, it can’t be recycled but you might be able to reuse it in a large planter as drainage and to lower the overall weight of your planted pot.
If you’re interested in learning more about other styrofoam products like food trays, styrofoam coolers, and packing peanuts. Do visit our Trash Backwards app where you can input those items in our search box and find all you need to know about reducing, reusing and recycling it nearby.
Let’s praise the good-works of the styrofoam recyclers and encourage more of them to pop up around the planet. If you need to find one nearest you, please visit our Trash Backwards app, where we connect you with styrofoam recyclers and have more in-depth information about styrofoam and its impact on the environment:
Reducing our use of the stuff is always the best route to take, so send notes to the manufacturers of the products you buy that you’d like them to pack your goodies in more environmentally sound packaging.
In the comments below, please alert others to your nearest styrofoam recycler. Let’s sing their praises and thank them for ensuring that those white buoyant pieces of toxic plastic don’t end up in our waters.