There are a few things that are part of our way of life and we tend not to think about the influence they might have beyond our need. It’s time to start thinking about those things. Zero Waste McMinnville wants to help by pointing out where we need to make changes. This is one.
We all know Styrofoam…..it’s that hard foam used to insulate things…the inside of our walls and our hot cups for coffee and trays for microwavable food are the most common uses. Styrofoam is a trade name fora petroleum-based plastic named polystyrene. Like Kleenex for facial tissues, Coke for carbonated soft drinks and Xerox for copiers, Styrofoam is the commonly used name, no matter who makes the product.
LIke other petroleum based products, styrofoam causes problems in our environment both in the production, use and disposal. Manufacturing the base chemical polystyrene has a number of toxic effects on workers, including irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal effects. Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system showing symptoms such as depression, headache, fatigue, and weakness, and can cause minor effects on kidney function and blood. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Then, we use much of it to hold food. When warm, chemicals leach out of the food container into the food. This also can result in a number of health risks.
Finally, we toss the container into the trash. Currently, McMinnville has no system to recycle Styrofoam, so it goes to the landfill. Not only does it take up about 25-30% of all landfills, it does not break down, essentially maintaining that mountain of trash for generations or centuries…..or millennia.
Portland has restricted the use of Styrofoam but it obviously is heavily used elsewhere within the metropolitan area. Agilyx, a polystyrene recycling plant in Tigard has developed and is now installing the technology to process waste polystyrene such as packing Styrofoam and other containers. The process will reduce it to its chemical elements so that it can be sold to manufacturers and be used repeatedly.
Recycling polystyrene currently is economically feasible. The process demonstrated to the Zero Waste McMinnville team at the Agilyx facility involves chopping the waste material, cleaning it, drying it, and extruding it with heat to form pellets, which can then be used for more production.
Alternatives, such as recycled paper, bamboo and corn plastics, are biodegradable when composted and would be diverted from the landfill. Recyclables can be and compostibles will soon be picked up curbside at your homes and businesses.