By Martha B. Clarvoe
As we begin the New Year, I hope it's not too late to remind everyone that white Styrofoam is recyclable and should not be thrown out with the garbage. Like holiday wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, gift boxes and even plastic bags, Styrofoam is also recyclable but it requires more commitment.
On my way into work this past week I noticed a very large bag of block Styrofoam, set out for the garbage hauler, which reminded me of this ongoing disposal issue. Styrofoam is problematic. Only materials labeled "1" through "5" are recyclable through our current county recycling program _ Styrofoam is a "6."
I should note that the word "Styrofoam" is commonly (though incorrectly) used to describe the expanded polystyrene foam comprising products such as disposable coffee cups and coolers, or cushioning material in packaging. Polystyrene is a polymer (a compound made up of many like molecules) made from styrene, a monomer liquid derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts. Patented and first used commercially in the 1940s, Styrofoam is actually a product name given to extruded polystyrene foam building materials by The Dow Chemical Co. For familiarity's sake, I am going to continue to misuse the term.
When picked up by a local hauler, discarded Styrofoam is taken to the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority southern transfer station in Oneonta. From there it is driven another four hours and placed in a landfill in western New York. What a waste! Because Styrofoam is so light (95 percent air), it takes up a large percentage of landfills when measured by volume rather than weight. Given its bulk, transportation costs and because it is not biodegradable, Styrofoam should not be a one-use item. OCCA feels it is worth the extra effort to find this reusable material a new purpose.
Like the 100 Mile Diet, which encourages people to buy food from local farmers and producers, we should also be keeping our waste close to home whenever possible. To my knowledge, The Copy Shop at 218 Main St. in Cooperstown is the only Otsego County business that accepts used Styrofoam block. Styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap can be dropped off at New York Salvage at 35 Otsego St in Oneonta. Both companies reuse these materials for shipping.
OCCA is aware of only one other environmentally sound option for that unwanted Styrofoam: You can bring it to the Earth Festival 2011 collection on April 9 at Milford Central School, after which it will be delivered to Shelter Enterprises in Cohoes. This will be the second year that Earth Festival organizers relocate clean, white Styrofoam to this company, which compacts and re-densifies the polystyrene for reuse in packaging and insulation materials. A donation of $5 is suggested to help cover the cost of truck rental to make this delivery possible.
We encourage everyone who receives the "gift" of Styrofoam to recycle it with a local business, reuse it yourself, or bring it to Earth Festival in the spring. Every pound of reused or recycled Styrofoam means that one pound of new polystyrene need not be created.
I picked up that bag of Styrofoam block on the curbside to keep it out of the landfill _ please let it be one of your New Year's resolutions to recycle all the Styrofoam that enters your home or workplace.
Clarvoe is president of the Otsego County Conservation Association.