Recycling Know-No’s ~ STYROFOAM, aka Expanded Polystyrene

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By Gene Kalb and Ed McGrath

Question #5 – STYROFOAM – This is actually the subject that inspired this column.  Styrofoam certainly seems like something that you should be able to recycle.  It has to make economic sense to do it though.

Styrofoam – Unwelcome in Bedford’s recycling bin – Image (c) Gene Kalb, 2018 all rights reserved

Based on the number of telephone calls the Department of Public Works gets and what the DPW observes in recycling bins each week, this week’s topic is styrofoam, and what to do with it.

It goes in the trash, not the recycling bin,” said Ed McGrath, Bedford’s Recycling Coordinator. “Styrofoam packaging, food trays, take-out containers, and coffee cups are considered contamination at the recycling processing facility.”

For several years, the DPW collected Styrofoam at its recycling events in the spring and fall. “Unfortunately, ReFoamIt, the company we used, lost its lease and shut down operations,” explained McGrath. “We haven’t been able to find a company to replicate this service at a reasonable price.”

ReFoamIt charged the town $275 per event according to McGrath. Other companies he’s researched are more expensive and will only accept pure white Styrofoam packaging. One company told McGrath he would have to collect Styrofoam in clear 55-gallon bags and when he had a full trailer, they would pick it up for $500.

“Right now, it’s just not cost effective for Bedford,” said McGrath.

So what should you do with foam packaging, food trays, coffee cups, and take-out containers? Put them out with the trash.

“Given the weight of foam packaging and other products, it’s not really increasing the town’s trash disposal costs,” McGrath said. “Putting these items in the recycling bin just adds to the other items pulled before the sorting process begins at the recycling facility.”

McGrath added he sees recycling bins with Styrofoam when he drives around on Mondays. As part of his outreach efforts, he sends the homeowner a postcard.”

“Statewide, the goal is to reduce the contamination of incoming loads at the MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities) to 5 percent,” McGrath said. “As part of our effort to reach this objective, in the future, Styrofoam will be removed from the bin and left behind.”

Recycling is good.  It helps the environment, helps the town, and makes you feel you’re doing your part.  That being said, not all things are easy to recycle, no matter what you may think.

Putting your Styrofoam coffee cup in the bin might “feel” right, but is actually detrimental and costly to us in Bedford.  There are other things that fall into the category of “should” be recycled, but without understanding what happens “downstream,” your wishful thinking could end up causing more trouble.

You may not have been aware that all recycled material gets sorted, and one of the most cost-effective sorts happens at your bin. Understanding what happens after your recycling bucket has been collected can help make that downstream work easier.  Accordingly, we are embarking on a new series that hopefully will answer the “whys “ and “whats” of recycling here in Bedford.

About Know No’s of Recycling

The Bedford Citizen has teamed up with Ed McGrath from the Bedford Department of Public Works in a new segment called “Know-Nos of recycling” to explain what happens once you put something in the recycle bin. We’ll also explain why it’s so important to only put the correct stuff in your recycle bins.  If you have questions, please send them along.