StyroFest: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I never shy away from an opportunity to make a gratuitous allusion to one of my favorite epic westerns of all time, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, starring a youthful Clint Eastwood, a theatrically limber Eli Wallach, and a surly Lee Van Cleef and masterfully directed by Sergio Leone.  If you’ve never seen it, I strongly suggest that you give it a try.  So now that we’re three months into StyroFest, our new monthly events to collect and recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS) (generically and incorrectly referred to as Styrofoamtm in infringement of the Dow Chemical Company’s trademark), I thought it was the perfect time to celebrate our success (The Good), talk about some opportunities for improvement (The Bad), and why, without a little help and cooperation, the future of this great new free and convenient program could be in jeopardy (The Ugly).

The Good

The response to StyroFest by our residents has been outstanding and the momentum is beginning to grow from month-to-month.  In November, we collected around 20 cubic yards (not bad for a first try!) but in December and January we mushroomed to a total of 80 cubic yards – 40 yards each weekend.  In terms of weight, that’s around one ton of mostly EPS with some polyethylene foam, and plastic bags and bubble wrap thrown in for good measure that we’ve kept out of the landfill.  We all know how light EPS is relative to its volume so one ton of EPS represents a lot of material and landfill airspace.  Given that it takes somewhere between ages and eons for EPS to biodegrade, we’re making a significant positive, palpable impact on our environment.  If you’re interested in finding out more about this recycling program and what happens to the materials after they’re collected, please check out a great video that explains all of the details.

The Bad

We’re always looking to find ways to improve our collection programs and special Styrofoam oozing out of Containerevents and we need your help to make these occasions even better.  For StyroFest, please keep a few important things in mind:

• Make sure that all materials are in clear plastic bags or in recycling carts with bags. Nothing should be left out on the ground that’s not it a plastic bag or out of the weather inside the large container. Any foam that gets wet won’t be accepted by the recycler and will end up in the landfill.

• If/when you place a full plastic bag of foam inside the large container, try to put it as far inside as possible and stack the bags on top of one another. The idea is to maximize the space we have inside the container.

• Don’t place foam in a recycling cart that doesn’t have a bag in it. There’s no easy way to get the material out of the cart and into a bag after the event is over other than by hand. And those hands are mine.

• This is a first come, first served event so if there’s no space left in the recycling carts or large container, please come back next month. We’ll be there on the fourth weekend of every month.

The Ugly

Shredded styrofoam filling a cart alongside a big block of foamAs the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.  I have to say that 99% of the residents coming to StyroFest have been awesome and have followed the rules to a tee.  We really appreciate it!  Unfortunately, all it takes is one person not following directions to muddy the waters for everyone.   As you can see in the photo, we were recently stuck with a recycling cart completely filled with shredded EPS and packing peanuts which we explicitly note on our flyers that we don’t take.  As you can imagine, this takes a lot of staff time (tax dollars) to get the peanuts out of the cart without making a huge mess and, after it’s out, our polystyrene recycler StyroRecycle can’t recycle packing peanuts or shredded foam so bringing it to our events is just another stopover on its circuitous journey to the landfill.  As a side note, the foam insulation block in the photo is also not accepted.

Thanks again to everyone for supporting StyroFest and helping us make these events so successful.  We hope that we can continue to work together to ensure that the community only brings accepted materials to these events in the future.