Ask Eartha: Styrofoam a nasty non-recyclable
A: The #6 inside the chasing arrows symbol on expanded polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam, is downright confusing. Remember, just because a plastic has a number on the bottom of it doesn’t mean it can always be recycled. The number found on plastic items indicates the plastic’s resin type or molecular structure.
You’re not going to find many communities that recycle #6 EPS. Almost anything can be recycled if the technology is available and there’s a market for it, and the market for recycling #6 EPS is very small. #6 EPS cannot be recycled at any of the recycling drop-off centers in Summit County. It’s one of those nasty, unnecessary disposables that will inevitably end up in the Summit County Landfill.
EPS includes Styrofoam peanuts, ice coolers, take-out containers, cups, packing blocks, and cartons. Like other plastics, EPS is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable resource. And like plastic bags, there are plenty of alternatives to using EPS.
A few months back, Eartha and her fellow HC3 cohorts decided to take a shot at having an EPS-free workplace. Cutting Big Gulp cups and to-go containers was easy as pie. Mmmm, pie. Having a harmonious EPS-free workplace only lasted about a month when HC3’s energy specialist, Matt, went out and purchased some new auditing equipment. With the auditing equipment, blower door fan to be exact, came #6 block foam.
Matt was given an ultimatum: find a recycling solution for the EPS or move his desk into the greenhouse. While Matt was unable to find a recycling or creative reuse solution for the EPS, he did find an alternative: molded paperboard. Before we were able to give him an “attaboy,” Matt was on the phone with the manufacturer asking that they pack their product in the recyclable alternative.
HC3 employees no longer claim to live an EPS-free life but I must admit we get pretty close. If packaging peanuts end up at our doorstep, we take them to the local UPS store for recycling (remember they must be clean and dry). When a piece of block foam is used as a protective cover for a product we buy, we get on the phone and express our concern to the manufacturer.
We tote around our reusable mugs, opt for eggs packaged in paperboard, and choose durable or compostable plates instead of EPS. Most importantly, we avoid EPS whenever possible.
Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylish shoes.
Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.
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