By Razz (Shayla) Beley
Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups per year. Also known as expanded polystyrene foam, Styrofoam takes a considerable amount of time to breakdown. The chemicals that make up this material are so anti-ecological that 500 years from now, Styrofoam cups used and thrown into a landfill just today, will still be sitting there. Feeling triggered by this fact, amongst a few others, the town officials of Amherst, MA have officially declared a ban on Styrofoam use in all restaurant facilities as of the first of January.
Not only is Styrofoam extremely anti-ecological, but also the process involved in creating the material is wasteful of resources. Petroleum, which is used in this process, is non-renewable and carcinogenic to humans. Identified by The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research, it was found that 57 different chemical byproducts are released during the combustion of Styrofoam. However, many places, particularly restaurants, use Styrofoam because it’s extremely cheap to manufacture and has great properties for retaining temperature.
After asking a variety of Fitchburg State University students their opinions on the use of Styrofoam, what seemed to be the most popular of responses was the idea that the use of Styrofoam could be justified if there was recycling for it. To one of those types of responses, a student commented with, “There is recycling for Styrofoam.” It seemed as if more than half the people asked about the use of Styrofoam were unaware that it could even be recycled. Most students were surprised to find that there was a Styrofoam recycling place just a town away in Leominster, MA.
Unlike the town officials of Amherst, MA, The founders of ReFoamIt in Leominster, MA think the best solution is not to ban Styrofoam altogether,, but to recycle it. “One of the biggest problems is education. Most people believe in the myth, it’s been generated by people who really don’t know recycling Styrofoam is a thing, or by people who don’t want to do it – mostly the trash people.” says co-founder Dave Sherman, “My wife Barbara and I hope to build a stronger and bigger network for the recycling of Styrofoam, we currently service 50% of the towns in Massachusetts.”
The two having been running their Styrofoam recycling program for 4 years now. For the first 3 years, they had the Styrofoam shipped out to Rhode Island to be recycled. For the past year now, they’ve been doing the process all on their own. “It’s pretty simple,” says Dave, “one machine cuts the Styrofoam into tiny pieces. After that, it gets put and hung in a bag.” From that bag, it goes into another machine and by using hydraulic pressure; all of the air gets pulled from the Styrofoam and is transformed into a solid. Dave continues, “When the process is fully complete, it can then be used to create a number of things: picture frames, house molding, automobile parts… if you go to a store and buy a picture frame, there’s a 99% chance it’s made out of recycled Styrofoam.”
Dave is a strong believer that Styrofoam should be recycled if it’s going to be used. “People make the argument that because of the materials it’s made out of, it can take years upon years to decompose, well, so can anything in a landfill. In landfills, there is no water or air to help with the decomposition of not just Styrofoam but cardboard and plastic too.” Whether or not the ability to recycle Styrofoam after using it is equal to the worth of using it in the first place seems to be under constant discussion, and most likely will be for years. At the very least, the facts about it can be found.