Styrofoam — referring generically to #6 expanded polystyrene foam — is a disposal headache. Extremely bulky, yet lightweight, it takes up space in the waste stream (and in landfills), but its removal doesn't add much value to what is known as "diversion numbers."
In 1989, California Assembly Bill 939, known as the Integrated Waste Management Act, mandated reduction (or diversion) in waste disposal: jurisdictions were required to meet a 50 percent diversion goal by the year 2000. In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 341, requiring a 75 percent reduction in disposable waste by 2020.
These goals are based on weight. So, for example, "green wastes" (lawn and garden clippings with a high water content) are targeted for removal from the waste collection system. Lightweight Styrofoam is ignored because its removal doesn't add much to diversion goals.
Many holiday gifts, such as electronics and wine, come packed in #6 Styrofoam. That's why UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners in Tuolumne County host semi-annual Styrofoam awareness events to collect foam from the public. Last On Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 12 and 13, the Master Gardeners unloaded vehicles and collected Styrofoam from holiday gifts. Once collected, that foam will be compacted, baled and transported for recycling.
Started in honor of Earth Day 2007, the Master Gardener Save Our Styrofoam (SOS) project has received collaborative support from local waste haulers and county government agencies. Waste Management Inc. (WMI) donates 20-foot roll-off bins to hold the collected Styrofoam. WMI then compacts and bales the foam. Tuolumne County's Solid Waste Division arranges with the county's e-waste hauler to pick up and deliver the Styrofoam bales. A Lodi, Calif., division of Dart Container Corporation repurposes the recycled Styrofoam into food containers.
Styrofoam collection events have been held at the California State Fair and by various other recycling groups. The hope is that, eventually, with California's focus on recycling, Styrofoam will no longer be a product created from fossil fuels that is then eliminated by being buried in the earth.