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S.O.S. – Save Our Styrofoam

Submitted by: Tuolumne County Master Gardener Joan Bergsund

Once again, Master Gardeners are sponsoring a community Styrofoam recycling event. Our initial collection last June was a success, and with repeated requests from the public, we decided to hold the next collection over two days. This should encourage more “drop-offs” with the two day window maximizing convenience for the community. The S.O.S. (Save Our Styrofoam) drop-off will be held Saturday, January 12 from 9AM to 3 PM, and Sunday, January 13 from 10 AM to 3 PM.

Many holiday gifts—think electronics and wine—will come packed in the stuff and we hope you´ll set the Styrofoam aside and mark your calendar for our January dates. We encourage residents and commercial businesses alike to save Styrofoam packaging material. Please don´t toss it into the trash – that´s a sure-fire route to the land fill. Because the material is so bulky it takes up a lot of space and we much prefer than you save it for our pickup.

We have established a contact with Timbron International in Stockton, an extrusion manufacturing facility that is actively seeking sources of Styrofoam. They are eager to acquire all the polystyrene they can and have agreed to accept all we can gather, because “it´s the right thing to do.” They´re committed to helping recycle polystyrene locally to be used to make extruded moldings for the construction industry. Their products are available for purchase at local home centers, and are both recycled and recyclable. Be a part of this process – let´s make history together.

The drop off will be held in the large parking lot at MRL Industries on Nugget Boulevard (just past the corner of Camage Avenue and Nugget) off Tuolumne Road in the industrial park, just as it was last June. Waste Management (Cal Sierra Division) has agreed to collaborate with us and will provide the large enclosed containers into which the Styrofoam 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.

Please do not attempt to drop off any Styrofoam before the collection date. Both Waste Management and MRL are providing their services as a donation and do not have space to store Styrofoam.

The same as last time, only clean Styrofoam will be accepted. No peanuts. No used food containers. Please remove any tape, labels, wood, or other foreign materials. In order to know if the material is polystyrene expanded foam, look for the #6 in the recyclable triangle label on the bottom of the material.

Styrofoam is a disposal headache. If you´ve ever tried stuffing the polystyrene packing from your latest electronic purchase into a garbage can, you´ve experienced the problem. Extremely bulky, yet lightweight, it takes up lots of space in the waste stream (and in landfills), but its removal doesn´t add much value to what is known as “diversion numbers.”

In 1989, California Assembly Bill 939, known as the Integrated Waste Management Act, was passed because of the increase in waste stream and the decrease in landfill capacity. AB 939 established a hierarchy of approaches to our waste stream generation—source reduction, recycling and composting, and environmentally safe transformation and disposal. It also mandated a reduction (or diversion) of waste being disposed: jurisdictions were required to meet diversion goals of 25% by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000.

However, the 25% and 50% goals are based on weight. So, for example, “green waste”—lawn and garden clippings and prunings, heavy from a high water content—is targeted for removal from the waste collection system. Styrofoam is ignored because its removal doesn´t add much to the 50%-by-weight waste stream diversion goal.

Master Gardeners are asking you to begin saving your polystyrene for collection day, January 12 & 13. Save clean white packaging foam (typically used to pack computers, TVs, appliances, furniture, wine) and rigid white foam insulation (typically used around building foundations). Remove any tape, stickers, labels, paint or cardboard. Please note that neither bubble wrap and packing peanuts nor used food containers can be accepted. (Pac N Copy in the Junction Shopping Center, and some other shipping companies, will accept your packing peanuts).

Once collected, the foam will be baled and transported to Stockton to be recycled.

Joan Bergsund, Tuolumne County Master Gardener, is a member of the S.O.S – Save Our Styrofoam planning committee.