Styrofoam Packaging: A Recycling Challenge

styrofoam-mountain-480x319While most of Styrofoam—95%— is actually air, the solid part is the epitome of environmentally unfriendly: not only does it not biodegrade, but when it is burned, it creates a toxic ash. And remember, in Fairfax County, our municipal waste is virtually all burned at the Covanta trash-to-energy plant in Lorton (more on that in a future blog). Also, polystyrene, Styrofoam’s generic name, is made from styrene, a petroleum by-product.

However, it is precisely its lightweight easy to mold qualities that make polystyrene plastic such a desirable packaging material. So, what is an environmentalist to do?

Encourage companies to send items packaged with alternative materials:

  • Puffy Stuff and StarchTech, for example, use cornstarch to create completely biodegradable—and allegedly edible—packing peanuts. This packaging material can even be hosed down and used as fertilizer.
  • EarthAware™’s packing materials are made with a special type of plastic that can biodegrade in just 5 years. That’s a lot quicker than Styrofoam’s biodegradation date, which is never.dscf0019
  • Evocative is making Mushroom® Packaging— an earth-friendly protective packaging product made out of mushrooms(!)— that companies like Dell and Stanhope Seta are using today

What to do with the polystyrene packaging you receive?

Packing “peanuts” can be saved and reused to ship a package. Or they can be donated to UPS, FEDEX, or other shipping stores for re-use.

Molded polystyrene packaging, the kind that cushions new appliances in the box, should not be put in recycle bins, and there are no Fairfax County or nearby recycling centers for this type of plastic.

Cool art project anyone?         styrofoam-art

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