Find Creative Ways To Reuse Or Repurpose Styrofoam
Have you recently purchased items that were packaged with Styrofoam? Before you throw the packing material in the trash, consider reusing or repurposing it to postpone it from ending up in a landfill.
According to Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority (HRRA), the regional, governmental, waste management and recycling authority that serves Newtown, Styrofoam is not accepted in its mixed/single stream recycling.
“Polystyrene foam, also called expanded polystyrene [EPS] and commonly called Styrofoam, which is a trademarked product, has low density and very light weight, which makes it unsuitable for automated sorting. CT MRFs [materials recovery facilities] use automated sorting and EPS contaminates paper and other recyclables, reducing the value of these recycling commodities,” HRRA notes on its website (hrra.org).
Styrofoam cannot be recycled anywhere in Connecticut, and HRRA reports that the best option to dispose of it is to put it into the trash.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging, which includes polystyrene, were generated in 2018 and more than 69% ended up in landfills.
While the best practice to avoid putting more polystyrene into landfills is to stop purchasing it, such as opting for paper cups instead of Styrofoam cups, sometimes it is not an option.
That is why there are individuals giving a second life to this typically single-use plastic product.
Newtown resident Alexandra Arraiz has been finding ways to turn Styrofoam, and other materials people see as trash, into functional crafts.
She has gained insight and experience in this area thanks to being a Master Gardener, member of Newtown Environmental Action Team (NEAT) when it was active, and a former board member of the Town of Wilton’s Go Green Zero Waste Fair.
Through research, Arraiz has found that there is a New Jersey based company called TerraCycle that can recycle products typically considered unrecyclable, including Styrofoam. However, there is a fee.
She notes that Styrofoam and other polystyrene products are frequently used because it is practical, lightweight, and good for insulation, but that using them “comes with a big price” for the environment.
One way she has reused it in her life is for gardening.
“As a Master Gardener, you try to reduce the amount of soil in pots, so I will have some of those packaging peanuts or pieces of Styrofoam in a huge planter to fill in for soil and make it lighter … I use wine barrels to plant my spinach and arugula that are really shallow rooted. I don’t need to fill the whole thing with soil because it’s too expensive,” Arraiz said.
Not only does using Styrofoam help reduce the amount of soil needed, but it also creates pockets to help air circulate.
The downside, she notes, is that “it breaks down into micro-plastic” and creatures living in the soil can consume it.
There is also not enough research done to know how it affects the plants and the people that consume those plants.
Another way that she has reused and repurposed Styrofoam is for insulating her chicken coop. When she was building the structure, Arraiz took the long strips of Styrofoam that had been used for packaging a television and sandwiched it between layers of other materials, so the chickens would not have direct access to it.
Arraiz has also used blocks of Styrofoam to make decorative Mickey Mouse lollipop stands for parties instead of going out and buying them.
For that project, she uses a hot knife to cut the material into the desired shape.
“That releases fumes and I have to protect myself from those fumes. I try to do it outdoors. You should try not to burn Styrofoam, because the fumes are toxic,” Arraiz cautioned.
Another aspect to make note of when repurposing Styrofoam is that if it was originally used for food or beverages, it needs to be washed properly.
“We can make some crafts with the meat trays. It’s tricky, because it depends on what you buy, because it can be stained with the meat. You have to wash them very well,” she said.
When the material is clean, it can be transformed into a hanging planter or wall organizer. To do so, Arraiz says to face a full tray and a half tray together and glue them along the edge to create a pouch. They can then be painted.
“It can be an organizer pocket on the wall for paintbrushes and things that are light … sometimes, if you need more weight to it, you can cover it with paper mâché,” she said.
Arraiz lists that people can also use a sheet of Styrofoam as a paint palette, clean Styrofoam boxes and coolers as shelter for feral cats, as a cover for outdoor plants in the wintertime with burlap over it, and even as a kickboard or floating tray to use in the swimming pool.
“If you have certain important documents, certificates, or old pictures that you don’t want bending, you can cut the big trays of Styrofoam and you can make flat, cardboard-like sheets that can support the paper,” she said.
Ultimately, the goal is to not go out and purchase Styrofoam for these crafts, but to utilize what is already available.
Arraiz shared, “It can be an alternative, but you can’t craft your way out to solve the whole situation.”
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.