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December 21st, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Foam for the Holidays

Any way to get rid of all that Christmas-morning packaging?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

So far, biweekly trash pick-up is working for me. But the holidays are coming, and I’m pretty sure the Styrofoam from an Xbox would fill my whole trash bin. Is there any way to get rid of all that Christmas-morning packaging? 

—Santa Crass

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, Santa, but when it comes to disposing of what is more properly known as expanded polystyrene, you (and the rest of the planet) are pretty much ho-ho-hosed.

It’s not just that you can’t bung it into your curbside recycling bin—you can’t even take it to the dump. Metro’s Jim Middaugh knew of only two places citywide that recycle block Styrofoam (though not the peanuts), and neither of them is a Metro transfer station: Total Reclaim, on Northeast Columbia Boulevard, and Recology’s Southeast Foster Road location will both take it off your hands for around $5 a carload.

Mind you, even these places don’t actually recycle the stuff. “The machinery [to process it] is expensive,” Middaugh says. “It either goes to California or it’s shipped overseas.”

I don’t wish to cast aspersions on the environmental practices of our foreign partners, but there’s something about the reassurance “we shipped it overseas to be responsibly recycled” that smacks of “we gave Bandit to a nice farm family.”

Moreover, in researching the question of precisely how Styrofoam is recycled, I was struck by how frequently the answer came in the context of “who can banish it from my sight?” and how rarely any mention was made of what actually happens to it.

The truth is, Styrofoam can’t really be recycled. It can only be “downcycled” into other non-recyclable crap, or cooked down into a less-bulky form of waste. It seems this Christmas may bring many Portlanders a more visceral understanding of this problem.

 
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