Montclair Environmental Commission is partnering with Montclair Township Community Services/Public Works to help divert Styrofoam from our waste stream.
What is Styrofoam?
Expanded polystyrene (EPS), known commonly by the trademarked name Styrofoam, is a petroleum-based plastic that starts as a small hard pellet. These pellets are softened with heat and expanded using various gasses to form the lighter weight foam that is shaped into the products we are familiar with such as insulation, packing materials, egg cartons, and meat trays.
What is the environmental impact of EPS?
EPS manufacturing begins with polystyrene beads. Polystyrene is a polymerization of styrene, which is a suspected carcinogen. Pantene, another petroleum based product, is used as a “blowing agent” to assist in expanding the material to the lightweight malleable form needed to create the final products. The entire process also releases millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
During use polystyrene can leech styrene, particularly in the presence of heat.
The worst environmental impact is at the end of its useful life. EPS is among the types of plastics that become waste quickly, generally within a year. Recycling has been prohibitively expensive with little incentive leading to 80% destined for landfills. It’s light weight – many types consist of 95% air – makes it particularly susceptible to escaping the waste collection stream and becoming pollution. Also, like other plastics, EPS does not break down. Instead, it breaks apart to smaller pieces that can potentially stay in the environment for hundreds of years. These pieces are often mistaken as food and ingested by birds, fish and other wildlife.
Finally, incinerating EPS can release as many as 90 different chemicals that must be disposed of.
Are there alternatives to EPS?
In May 2022, some polystyrene foam used for food service will be banned with the implementation of the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (learn the basics of the NJ law in this ANJEC fact sheet). However, there is no current plan to ban EPS entirely. Proposed national legislation, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, includes extended producer responsibility aimed at encouraging innovation in packaging design as manufacturers will bear responsibility for the packaging used in shipping their goods.
Some companies have begun replacing polystyrene foam with less toxic but not always environmentally friendly alternatives, e.g. paperboard egg cartons. Paper alternatives, of course, add to deforestation pressures. Bio-based alternatives are promising with examples like packaging peanuts made from cornstarch and mushroom based molded packaging. However, while we may be able to choose a paperboard egg carton, we often do not get to choose the packaging for the furniture or electronics we purchase.
What do we do in the meantime?
In the meantime, we can keep some of this toxic material out of the environment, landfills and incinerators by recycling it. MEC and Montclair Township Department of Community Services will be conducting a pilot EPS recycling program each Saturday from 9am to 12pm beginning June 5, 2021.
EPS collected will be taken to Foam Pack where it will be remanufactured for resale ensuring the reduction of virgin EPS.
If you would like to volunteer to join us on a Saturday, contact email@example.com.