Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How much styrofoam did Santa bring you this year?

If your post-holiday garbage is packed solid with "styrofoam" (aka expanded polystyrene, or EPS), you'll be encouraged by the following notes that crossed my desk today.

The Wisconsin State Journal ran a story about a retailer who figured 80% of his waste was styrofoam. He purchased a simple machine that cuts the big blocks of foam into chips that can be reused as loose-fill styrofoam "peanuts."

In September, New Scientist published a story about a patent application from some Chinese scientists who have developed a new way of making styrofoam so it melts away in water when you're done with it.
Will these be the breakthroughs that solve our styrofoam problem? Probably not. Solutions have come and gone for years.
The fact is, the companies that use styrofoam packaging are not looking for a breakthrough ~ because THEY don't have a problem.
From the electronic manufacturers' point of view, that styrofoam is a solution, not a problem ~ it protects their products from breakage during shipment.
It's only after the products are sold to the consumer that styrofoam morphs into a problem, filling your garbage can and your community's landfill.
And the electronics companies are not likely to give you any help dealing with your styrofoam ~ unless they have to. Which is what "Extended Producer Responsibility" is all about.
This is the new paradigm: if you sell a product, you're responsible for recycling it, cradle-to-cradle. That includes both the product and the packaging.
Once the producers have to deal with their waste, solutions happen.
Instead, what do we do? We put THEIR styrofoam in the garbage where it costs US money. Metro Vancouver is looking at half a billion dollars in capital costs over the next few years to build all those fancy waste incinerators that will vaporize plastics into the atmosphere.
It's our choice: build incinerators, or use the law to compel producers to design products and packaing responsibly so there will be no hidden social or environmental costs.
This is going to be an exciting year!


Erika Rathje said...

I think if anyone could lead the pack, it would be Apple.

Anonymous said...

What about restaurants who package their take-out in styrofoam? I cringe at the thought of how many times I've gotten take-out in styrofoam containers. I figure I could either:

A. Stop getting take-out or
B. Bring my own containers but that would probably be a big no-no for the health board and not "food safe".

Should restauranteurs also be held responsible for styrofoam waste? I know I've heard of one Japanese restaurant in Vancouver who has started using packaging alternatives to styrofoam. And I've noticed a couple of restaurants I go to use plastic containers that can either be reused or recycled. I do the former until they are no longer useable and then recycle them.

What's a take-out junkie to do?