Most people will find that the only practical way for disposing of foam is in the trash. There is currently only one drop-off program in the state for getting it recycled, and that is at the R.I. Resource Recovery in Johnston
Q: How should large pieces of Styrofoam packaging be disposed of?
— A.M. Cranston
A: First, a bit of trivia, A.M.: The term “Styrofoam,” though commonly used to reference anything made out of polystyrene, is actually a Dow Chemical Co. trademarked brand used exclusively in wall, floor, and roof insulation, as well as in some specialty craft products. For our purposes, I will just use the term “foam” to describe polystyrene material, in general.
Most people will find that the only practical way for disposing of foam is in the trash. Why? Because there is currently only one drop-off program in the state for getting it recycled, and that is here at R.I. Resource Recovery in Johnston, in our “Small Vehicle Area” drop-off center. The limited nature of this program is due to the fact that DART Container Corp., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of polystyrene, only provides us with pickups when their delivery trucks are already in Rhode Island. They make a delivery, and then stop here on their return trip. Due to this limitation, the program must be restricted to individuals collecting small amounts of foam at home. We cannot accept foam from businesses, organizations or institutions.
If you are a diehard recycler who is up for the challenge, consider saving foam products up for an occasional trip here, so you don’t waste too much time or gasoline in the process. I work here daily and even I only load up my car with items I’ve set aside once a year. On that note, if you’re going to make the trip, definitely check out all the other things we take in our Small Vehicle Area at www.rirrc.org/drop-off.
When it comes to the foam program, we can accept the rigid packing stuff (e.g., blocks hugging the corners of that new TV) as well as foam containers (e.g., coffee cups and take-out containers). DART requires that the foam be clean, dry and secured inside of see-through plastic bags. If you have some extra large pieces that won’t fit in a bag, it’s OK to drop those in loose, but all other items must be bagged. We’re open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and Saturdays from 6 a.m. to noon. Please note that we can’t take spongy stuff (e.g., “#1 Fan” fingers or buoyant swimming pool “noodles”), foam packing peanuts or foam insulation boards (i.e., Styrofoam™). These belong in the trash.
Finally, if you are wondering why you can’t just toss foam containers in your mixed recycling (technically, a foam coffee cup is a plastic container), it’s because we can’t take foam mixed in with other recyclables on one side of the facility and get it properly sorted into the condition the recycler requires on the other side. It will never wind up perfectly clean and dry and it has a knack for crumbling and contaminating other recyclables. For this reason, foam products are still excluded from nearly every curbside recycling program in the country.
— Krystal Noiseux is the education and outreach manager at Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. Send your question, including the city or town from which you're writing, to Trash Tutorial, Features Department, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Trash Tutorial" in the subject field.