The holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes family, food, gifts – and a whole lot of trash.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's, we generate about 25 percent more weekly waste than we do throughout the rest of the year.
I know my household is as guilty as any, and often a lot of that additional waste is packaging materials. Fortunately, much of it is cardboard or another recyclable material.
However, one confounding packaging item that many of us find ourselves in possession of is expanded polystyrene, often referred to as Styrofoam, a trademarked brand name for the product.
Most people are unaware expanded polystyrene is recyclable. The difficulty comes in finding a recycler who is willing to accept the material.
Because expanded polystyrene is 95 percent to 98 percent air and 2 percent to 3 percent plastic, it takes up a large amount of space to transport for relatively little recoverable plastic. Therefore, recycling often is not economically profitable unless the material is delivered in a very large quantity.
In spite of the challenges, recycling of expanded polystyrene is possible – and important.
Like most plastics, expanded polystyrene takes a long time to biodegrade: 500 to 1,000 years – or more. Worse, because of the properties of the product, the material easily breaks apart and becomes litter. Expanded polystyrene is one of the most common items littered in our communities. As the nonbiodegradable material breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, it often ends up polluting our waterways or mistakenly is eaten by wild animals.
When recycled, expanded polystyrene can be reused to make new packaging or other materials, such as insulation, clothing hangers, ornamental moldings and picture frames.
Although you cannot put expanded polystyrene in your curbside recycling container, you can find businesses that will accept your materials and make sure that they are handled properly.
For the past several years, the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission has organized a post-holiday collection event so residents easily can recycle packaging materials, including any that have built up in a garage or basement throughout the year.
This year, the event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 30. From 10 a.m. to noon, ESC members will be in the parking lot of the Hilliard Community Center, 3800 Veterans Memorial Drive, to collect expanded polystyrene for recycling. Residents should remove all tape and paper from the materials.
Food containers will not be accepted. Although egg cartons or restaurant takeout containers might look clean, any food residue would contaminate the whole load.
Packing peanuts, however, will be accepted, but they should be sealed in a bag so they do not blow away and become litter.
Pete Marsh is chairman of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.