In December, the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission held its fifth annual polystyrene-foam recycling collection.

Since its inception, the polystyrene-foam collection has been one of the ESC's most popular events, and December's event was no exception.

The material, commonly referred to by the trademarked brand name Styrofoam, is a foam variant of polystyrene.

Polystyrene is a naturally transparent plastic, and it is recyclable. In its solid form, polystyrene commonly is used to manufacture CD cases, Petri dishes and other transparent plastic products. Solid polystyrene also is used in appliances, electronics, automobile parts, toys and gardening pots and equipment.

Yet polystyrene foam is not accepted through the vast majority of residential recycling programs, including those in central Ohio, and polystyrene foam, despite being a plastic, historically has proved difficult to recycle.

Why?

First and foremost, recycling polystyrene foam – and other plastic foams, such as expanded polyethylene – is difficult because the material is costly to transport. These foam products are approximately 90 percent air by volume; a 48-foot truckload of loose polystyrene foam weighs only around 16,000 pounds. This makes it difficult to efficiently transport foam from the collection point to a materials recovery facility.

When residents drop off polystyrene foam products at Hilliard's collection, that material is transported to Knox County's Opportunity Knox, which has a foam densifier. The densifier compacts the foam into bricks at a compression ratio of approximately 60:1. In other words, the densified foam takes up only one-sixtieth of the volume of the loose foam material.

Bricks of densified foam – along with other recyclables collected by Opportunity Knox – then are palletized and transported to Phoenix Recycling in Columbus for processing.

If this seems like a long way for the material to travel to be recycled, we agree with you.

That's why the Hilliard ESC is looking into acquiring its own foam densifier. This would reduce transportation costs and potentially allow residents of Hilliard and other central Ohio communities to drop off polystyrene foam at their convenience rather than waiting for a collection event.

This project still is in its early stages as the ESC pursues grants and other funding opportunities.

In the meantime, please continue to save your Styrofoam.

Our next polystyrene-foam collection will be at the ESC's Earth Day celebration from 10 a.m. to noon April 27 at the Hilliard Community Center, 3800 Veterans Memorial Drive.

Have questions about the ESC's polystyrene-foam collections? Send an email to jhsu@hilliardohio.gov.

Jon Hsu is vice chairman of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.