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Master Gardeners Help Tuolumne Recycle Again

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“Styrofoam™ by any other name”…to paraphrase William Shakespeare, is not really Styrofoam™. In fact, Styrofoam™ is the trade-marked brand of extruded polystyrene foam produced by the Dow Chemical Companies. It is known for its excellent insulating properties, its bright blue color and its use in construction where damp-proofing is required. It’s also used in floral arrangements.

However, the (usually) white, expanded—as opposed to extruded—polystyrene foam is a different material. Also, an excellent insulator, it’s usually used in packaging materials. This is the stuff that Master Gardeners will be collecting, once again, on Saturday, May 17.

The drop-off will be held on Microtronics Way just off Camage Avenue in the Tuolumne Road industrial park. Take Tuolumne Road and follow the signs. This packaging foam collection is scheduled to coincide with the Tuolumne County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day in Sonora, also being held on Camage Avenue. Due to busy activity in the area on Saturday, please come in from Standard Road.

Waste Management (Cal Sierra Division) is providing the large enclosed containers into which the foam will be packed. All you have to do is load the material in your car or truck, drive on by, and Master Gardeners will help you unload. How can you participate?

  • Look for the #6 in the recyclable triangle label on the bottom of the material.
  • Donate only clean packaging foam and rigid, white, foam insulation.
  • PLEASE remove all tape, labels, stickers, paint, cardboard and any other non-polystyrene materials.
  • Food containers need to be clean, with no food or grease residue.
  • We cannot accept bubble wrap or packing peanuts.

Packaging foam is typically used to pack computers, TVs, appliances, furniture, wine, steaks, and medications.  Foam insulation is typically used around building foundations and to insulate pipes.

Some packaging materials are now made from other kinds of foam. Only #6 expanded polystyrene foam can be reprocessed. For the same reason, packing peanuts and other kinds of packaging materials, like bubble wrap, cannot be collected during the recycling event. Pac N Copy, in the Junction Shopping Center, and some other shipping companies will accept your packing peanuts and some other packaging materials.

Please don’t toss this material into the trash – it’s a disposal nightmare. It doesn’t weigh very much, so doesn’t count much toward garbage haulers’ diversion numbers, the report to the California Integrated Waste Management Board of how much tonnage has been diverted from landfills.

Many cities, counties and other jurisdictions in California have banned the use of expanded polystyrene food containers. For a current list, go to Californians against Waste at  In addition, an organization called SOS—Save Our Shores—is working to ban expanded polystyrene containers because, according to their website, “Just like other forms of plastic in the marine environment, Styrofoam breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife, and enter the food chain that we depend on.”

If you’re looking for a cause in which to be involved, check with one of these organizations about how to help rid our packaging processes of this difficult material. In the meantime, drop off your expanded polystyrene foam with Master Gardeners on May 17 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps returned from retirement to organize the UCCE Central Sierra California Naturalist training class, being offered in fall 2014.