Eye on the Environment: Recycling events support sustainable practices

Greg Smith
Guest columnist

For the past several years, the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission has sponsored recycling events to divert difficult-to-recycle material away from the landfill.

These items have typically included expanded polystyrene foam (commonly referred to as trademarked term Styrofoam) and electronics (e-waste). In addition, shredding has been offered to accommodate confidential paper items.

Greg Smith is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.

In keeping with this effort, and adhering to COVID-19 coronavirus safety protocols, the Environmental Sustainability Commission and the city of Hilliard held a recycling event in October at which 7,250 pounds of paper, 6,189 pounds of electronics and 47 cubic yards of Styrofoam were collected from people in approximately 265 cars.  

Although expanded polystyrene foam cannot be put in your curbside recycling container to be collected by the city, it can be recycled. The difficulty comes in finding a recycler who is willing to accept the material.

Because expanded polystyrene is 95% to 98% air and only 2% to 3% 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 and in a very large quantity.

Despite the challenges, recycling expanded polystyrene is possible, and it also is important. We fortunately have identified a nearby specialty recycler who will accept our volume of Styrofoam waste material.

Like most plastics, expanded polystyrene takes a very long time to biodegrade. It can take 1,000 years or more. Worse, because of its properties, the material breaks apart easily 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. It also can be mistakenly eaten as food 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.

Old or unusable electronic items are other difficult-to-recycle waste materials. They also are not permitted in your curbside recycling container.

But there are specialized companies in our area that accept certain types of e-waste (for example, computers and printers) and either repair them or salvage reusable materials, such as valuable metals, from them. Again, we have partnered with a local e-waste company to collect and process the collected electronic items.

So we thank all the Hilliard residents who participated in our recent recycling event, enabling us to divert a meaningful volume of waste from the landfill. This project is another way the city of Hilliard is working hard to become a model community for sustainable practices.

Greg Smith is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.