Day 239: Our First Styrofoam

CB004464I’m sad to announce that we got our first piece of takeout Styrofoam on the weekend.  We’ve been avoiding Styrofoam during the project.  Actually, we haven’t brought a single bit of Styrofoam into our house.

Wait, that’s not completely true because “Work Grant” has a little pile down there in his office that came with electronics or some such thing he was buying, but work exemptions aside, we don’t usually do Styrofoam.

We ordered Chinese takeout for a family dinner at my Grandma’s.  My family is very supportive of our project, so a few of us actually went to the restaurant with a bag of reusable containers to pick it up.  Takeout dinner for 8 with no waste.


We ended up with a little Styrofoam container of sauce for the lemon chicken.  The restaurateur unfortunately didn’t realize that we had our own little containers that they could have used for sauce. . . . .

However, we did save 6 clamshells from the landfill by using our containers, so I’d still say it was a success.  The restaurant lady actually said they had a number of customers who also bring their own, so it’s nice to know that were aren’t the only ones.

Luckily, the mobile recycling depot in North Van takes styrofoam.  Some they sell to companies that reuse it for packing.  Some they sell to somewhere in the United States where they melt it down into a hard plastic material that can be made into a small number of new products.  Hmmm, I’m just realizing here that I should do some research before writing these posts. . . .

But the point is that it’s not that styrofoam isn’t recyclable.  All plastics are technically recyclable.  It’s whether they are cost effective to recycle that determines if there is a market for them and whether we, as consumers, have somewhere to put them.

For us it again comes down to the question of neccessity.  For example most people would agree that using styrofoam for lifesaving flotation devices is ok.  But I would argue that using it for temporary takeout-food packaging is is something that we could probably do without.

And that is why, my friends, I weep for the single Styrofoam container we now have in our possession.



Filed under recycling, slip ups

10 responses to “Day 239: Our First Styrofoam

  1. Awwww; it’s so frustrating isn’t it – but LOOK HOW FAR YOU HAVE COME!
    You managed 238 days without any; and that’s incredible.
    Plus, your meal reduced the need for a lot of packaging, which is great.

    lessons learned and all that. I hope the meal tasted great to make up for this 😀

  2. Here’s hoping this is your last styrofoam too! Also, a question: is styrofoam the same as polystyrene? I’m a little confused by this, namely because my local recycling center says they recycle all plastics #1-7, including #6 which is polystyrene. But then they say they don’t recycle styrofoam, which is sometimes labeled #6. You know, this seems like a question for my recycling center.

    • Jen CleanBin

      Thanks for the comments. As for styrofoam . . .it’s my understanding that it is actually a brand name of extruded polystyrene foam (kind of like how we say “kleenex” when we mean “tissue”). Polystyrene is a plastic that could look like styrofoam as in egg cartons or could look like hard plastic as in disposable cutlery.

      Usually curbside pick up recyclers only take hard plastic, so even if they take #6, they might not take the foam version (but you’ll have to check with your local center for details). I actually have an excellent resource post coming up on Thurs or Fri where you can find out all about different kinds of recyclables, so stay tuned!

  3. Christine – styrofoam is a type of polystyrene, you are correct. However, markets for styrofoam, or Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), are different than markets for regular polystrene.

    There are thousands of different types of plastics that are divided into 7 broad categories, which are the numbers you see on the bottom of plastics. When recycling, Material Recycling Facilities need to sort plastics into many, specific categories according to the buyer’s specifications. At our facility, for example, we need to sort colored, injection molded HDPE (#2) into one category for a buyer in Michigan and natural injection molded HDPE into another category for a different buyer out of Georgia. This really is not as complicated as it sounds (shampoo and laundry detergent bottles are the first category and milk jugs are the second 🙂 ). In summary, all #6’s are not created equal and your center may be able to sell polystyrene but not expanded polystyrene foam.

  4. Ah! Thanks for sorting that out!

  5. Ooh, the dreaded styrofoam. Man I hate that stuff! You are an inspiration to have made it this long without acquiring any. Somehow it manages to sneak into our house. Usually through the front door in my husband’s hand. Ugh.

  6. Congratulations, what an achievement! I try to avoid foam packaging, but you’re right, it does come with a lot of electronics and other things shipped. I’ve tried asking for tin foil at restaurants (when I’m not trying to take soup home or anything too wet).

  7. I agree that using styrofoam for food containers is ridiculous! In the food court at the mall I go to frequently, the food stands have an option of take-out or eat-in, which is common. However, it bothers me that in all of the restaurants it doesn’t matter whether you say “for here” or “to go” because they still give you a styrofoam container and a plastic fork. I thought that maybe the places in that food court should buy reusable plates and cutlery like the ones in our homes, and they could just be washed and reused. That would mean no more styrofoam containers in the trash at the food court! I think there are many small actions we could take that can make a big difference and reduce our waste, and people just need to get out of their old habits. Thank you for inspiring me with your amazing clean bin project video and everything you are doing to help the environment!

    • Claire – Thanks for your comments. Sometimes it’s so frustrating the way our society is set up! But I understand that it’s hard for just one food court restaurant to start using reusables because they’d have to buy them all, and collect them, and wash them which would cost quite a bit. If all the restaurants got together it would be so much easier. In the meantime, I just make sure I always have a container with me.

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