What to do with all this damn styrofoam?

Quick plug for Eugene’s E-waste heroes: Yesterday I had to get rid of a giant load of Styrofoam blocks. You wouldn’t believe how much of this crap you can get stuck with if you move into a new place. Want a new a vacuum? Have 3 cubic feet of foam block while you’re at it. And pretty much anything else you buy new. Trashcan? Sure. TV? Yup.

Unbelievable. So what do you do with all this crap? One Website I checked out said you could melt it down and make a glue, but that didn’t sound like a real healthy hobby.  I was looking at the Wikipedia definition of Styrofoam and noticed how prominently the “environmental benefits” of Styrofoam were posted. I wonder who gets paid in the marketing dept at Dow Chemical to lobby for that change? The “people’s encyclopedia”…

Anyway, called my trash company for some advice and they sent me to NextStep Recycling in Eugene, Oregon. I stopped by yesterday and they took my carload of white foam blocks off my hands for a few bucks. I asked, what the heck do they do with it?

 Turns out they compact it with a baling machine, which is slow and old (they’re looking for donations for a new one). And then they ship the giant bales down to California where a company reshapes it into something else. And they pay a ton of money to ship it. One of the big problems with reusing Styrofoam is that it’s too light to move around to processing centers — you have to pay big time freight and you’re shipping air basically.

Despite the slow baling process, the crappy shipping rates, and thankless business of collecting our fair city’s E-Junk, the lady running NextStep was unbelievably upbeat. She makes robot art out of antique electronics and pays kids with refurbished computers for helping out at the recycling center. I’m hoping to head back there and write something up on them for the day job.

Pretty uplifting huh? Well, here’s something to bring you back down again. I’m currently reading The World Without Us and Alan Weisman is talking about all the polymers floating around out in the ocean, getting smaller and smaller to the point where plankton and filter feeders will start eating bits of it. This flotsam concentrates all kinds of nasty chemicals to really unsafe levels. So if the overfishing of the world’s oceans doesn’t throw the entire marine ecosystem out of whack kill off our planet, the micro-zoological die off due to plastics ingestion surely could.  Fast food companies and Dow Chemical are going to kill us all with cheap Big Mac packaging.

And if you’re really ready to get pissed, watch this:

 DW sent it to me a week or so ago, and you can see The Story of Stuff. But we need to take a better look at reducing packaging and our impact.

 I am complicit in this — and so are you. I was the one that bought the new vacuum. Could I have bought it used? Probably — dicking around on Craigslist for a couple weeks waiting to find one that’s OK while my cats throw litter box sand all over the house and I’ve got to sweep it up with a broom. But I didn’t. I went to Bi-Mart, a locally owned discount store down the street and picked out a brand spanking new one. What’s this say about me? I’m willing to conserve to a certain point of inconvenience. Lame but true. But at least we can talk about it openly.


About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
This entry was posted in Conservation, eugene, Mad Max, Tech and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What to do with all this damn styrofoam?

  1. r~ says:

    Ugh…styro sucks. I worked at a precast concrete plant for a whole, and we made all of out forms out of foam. We used semi-loads full of it a month. Ultimatly they figured oout that we could grind it up and sell it to the local insulating contractors, and they could blow it into industrial buildings. Nasty job to grind it up though, full of concrete dust.

    I have a freind who just puts it back in the box and mails it book rate back to the companys corperate HQ.

    Glad you told me about nextstep…

  2. Edgar says:

    Interrupting this for the strangest news I’ve ever read:

    Orange peel’s oil (limonene) can completely dissolve Styrofoam!


    Of course I’ve had to do the experiment…

    A good thing I’m already a Mad Inventor!


  3. anaudia says:

    dont waste stytrofoam

  4. dave says:

    Enstyro Inc. has developed new recycling equipment and products made from recycled styrofoam. We hope it takes off and expands the EPS recycling industry. Check it out at Enstyro.com

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