The Recycling Centre continues to receive polystyrene items. People are often surprised that we do not take it as many items have the recycling symbol.
(I really wish packaging designers would quit making it so confusing! The message needs to be ‘check with local recycling programs for acceptable materials.’)
Last year I did some research and here is what I found.
The technical name for number six plastic is polystyrene (PS). Meat trays and many other things are made from ‘extruded polystyrene’ or polystyrene foam. Most of us call it Styrofoam which is actually a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene used for thermal insulation and craft applications.
Polystyrene foam has many uses because it is strong, lightweight, cheap, and sanitary to use.
According to the Canadian Plastic Industry Association’s web page, polystyrene foam is very recyclable. However, only about 35% of recycling programs in Canada accepts it.
This is because it is 90% air. It takes up a lot of space and is very light. It requires special machines to compact or ‘densify’ it enough to make shipping feasible.
The Recycling Centre gets a lot of polystyrene foam. Large pieces are often in cardboard boxes where it protected whatever came in the box. It must be removed before the cardboard is baled which takes time especially when it is very tight in the box.
Foam cups, meat trays, egg cartons, and other items often found with other recyclables we receive. They are removed and put in the garbage.
It is highly unlikely that we will ever recycle PS foam.
We are finding more fibre based packing materials which are recyclable.
Hopefully it will become the norm.