I was sitting in a circle of people at a workshop many years ago. As an exercise, the workshop leaders asked us to close our eyes and to pass around several small objects. The objects included a block of wood, a steel bar, a rock and a block of styrofoam. The purpose of the exercise was to experience the 'energy' of each item and then to report on the experience—what we felt and thought about each item.
I don't remember much about the reactions to the wood, steel and rock. But I DO remember the styrofoam. For me, the experience was pretty unpleasant, especially when compared to the other items. Try it yourself and see.
Why do I mention this experience? Simply because it was a significant factor in my developing a dislike of styrofoam. So much so, that over the past 20 years, I have stored, reused, or recycled virtually all the clean styrofoam I have received.
Avoiding styrofoam has been a huge challenge since it is widely used in food storage containers and packing material. However, there ARE several things we can do to reduce intake and disposal of it.
Take food containers, for example. When my wife and I go to a restaurant, we try to bring our own container for take-home food. Many containers will fit easily into a purse or you can put one in a small paper bag. If we forget the container, then we ask for a non-styrofoam container. If the restaurant provides take-out containers for salads, they may be made of recyclable plastic so we inquire about that. If the restaurant only has styrofoam, then we ask for a piece of metal foil (which is recyclable) to wrap the food.
Over the past several years that we have been doing this, we've noticed some interesting changes in the restaurants that used styrofoam. For example, four restaurants (or 80% of the ones we visit) have switched their take-home containers to non-styrofoam material such as paper or recyclable plastics. Whether they did so as a result of customers like us wanting an alternative to styrofoam, we don't know. What we DO know is that cost is NOT the likely reason—one restaurant cited cost as a major reason to not switch from styrofoam containers.
Then there is the ubiquitous packing material. Many shipped products include packing peanuts made of styrofoam and the products themselves (especially if they are household or electronic appliances) may contain large blocks of it in the box to protect the product.
If you end up with half a box of packing peanuts after receiving a package, you can take them to a local shipper such as Pages in Mt. Shasta for reuse. Keep in mind that styrofoam materials will be gladly accepted by professional shippers. After all, if they don't get it from us, they have to BUY the stuff, which just keeps the cost of shipping up!
Then there is the problem of styrofoam packing blocks. Ugh. A real nemesis for me over the years, these blocks are generally pretty big and there is currently no easy way to recycle them. Recycling centers won't take them in part because the machinery for breaking them down is very expensive and the material has a high volume for its relative weight. But you may wish to save these blocks anyway if you have the space, as they are recyclable in some of the larger metropolitan areas in the state. In the final installment of this series, we'll take a look at places that accept these blocks for recycling, including where they are located and ways you can get it there.
If you've read this far, it can be assumed you don't like styrofoam any more than I do. Whatever the case, keep in mind that as we discussed in our earlier column on the subject, reducing use of it may not have a direct positive impact on the environment. But it (or some other purposeful environmental effort you might make) WILL show how much you care about the planet, and to what lengths you are willing to go to show it.
For if your effort does nothing else, it does show a purposeful intent to help the planet, and THAT may ultimately help raise the consciousness of everyone else to do the same.