Friday, June 13, 2008

Ideas for Recycling and Resuing Polystyrene (a.k.a. styrofoam)

One of my early blog posts on this site was a rant against packing peanuts. It's not even their unenvironmentalness that I hate the most. It's the fact that they get statically charged somehow and stick to everything and fly in the air when I'm trying to dispose of them. It's like they are taunting me. They're saying, "You can't get rid of me that easily."

It's the truth, isn't it? You can't get rid of packing peanuts or anything else made of polystyrene easily. Polystyrene is the actual name for the stuff that most of us refer to as styrofoam. Styrofoam is actually a trademark from Dow and true Styrofoam, while a type of polystyrene, is different from the polystyrene that we see in "styrofoam" cups or packing peanuts.

I've been reading about various methods that are used in Europe that melt polystyrene down and turn it into other things, but here in the U.S., anything like that isn't available yet - at least to the general population. Those of us who bring polystyrene products into our homes in the form of packing peanuts, packing blocks, egg cartons, take-out containers, coffee cups, etc. have a very difficult time disposing them unless we just throw them in the trash.

Why is recycling it not an easy option? From what I can determine, it' s mainly because it's so cheap to make and so lightweight for its size that transporting it to be recycled is cost-prohibitive.

So what are our options?

Reuse or give away the packing materials. The peanuts, the big blocks (along with other packing things like wadded up paper or air pillows) are very reusable. You can save them to reuse yourself, donate them to a shipping center or Freecycle them. There are plenty of e-bay sellers out there who would be happy to take them off your hands.

Take or mail your polystyrene to Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. If you go to this website you can find the recycling centers that accept polystyrene and if there isn't one near you, you can mail it. Because it's so expensive to transport, curbside recycling of this type of material is not going to be coming to your town any time soon. If you're really serious about having it recycled, this is an option.

And that's about it. I wish I had some more options for you. Sure you can use some of it for kids' crafts or use the egg cartons to start seedlings. But, for the most part, there isn't much that can be done about the stuff.

So my best suggestion is to use as little of it as possible.
  • Don't frequent restaurants and fast food joints that use them to serve their food.
  • Take your own reusable coffee mugs to places that use them for their coffee.
  • Buy your eggs in cardboard cartons or easily recyclable plastic cartons (generally a plastic with a #1 or #2 on it).
  • Ask shop owners who do use it to consider switching to something more earth friendly.
  • Ask your butcher to wrap your meat in butcher paper instead of buying it on a polystyrene tray.
If you've got any great suggestions, please share them. Stumble Upon Toolbar


luis said...

Very interesting.

If the economics don't work, recycling and sustainable efforts won't either.
Check a blog about innovative entrepreneurs that make money selling recycled items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources. These include some very cool Green nline ventures, great new technologies, startups and investments opportunities.

Deoxy said...

You can use the packing peanuts to fill bean bag chairs. My chair is getting a little saggy, so whenever I get stuck with some peanuts, I just toss them in.

Cheap Cookin Mama said...

If you buy your eggs in cardboard you can reuse them to start seedlings in.

Craig Baird said...

These ideas for recycling Styrofoam are great.
My wife and I are doing green things every day for a year, and some of the tips we found on your site are great.

Keep up the great work!

Craig Baird

Robin Shreeves said...

Craig - I checked out your blog - You and your wife are doing some awesome things. Thanks for introducing yourself!