The Mysteries of Plastic Number 6 (an interesting junk removal thought experiment)
Coffee cups, take-out containers, the packaging around your new blender. These are all made from Styrofoam, AKA plastic number 6. At YYC junk removal Calgary we get asked a lot about what happens with foam. There may be a small number in a triangle stamped into the lid, but that doesn’t mean your local facility has the means to recycle it!
Polystyrene is one of the most widely used plastics in the world, and our junk removal teams in Calgary unfortunately see it a lot. This plastic is highly valuable to manufacturers due to economy of scale: ease of production, light in weight (98% air), and waterproof. Though easy to produce, Styrofoam is not nearly as straightforward to get rid of.
It Isn’t Going Anywhere Fast
This “disposable” material takes up to an astounding 1 million years to decompose naturally. In the meantime, owing to its porous nature, polystyrene is very likely to become contaminated. Contaminants may be as simple as the coffee poured into the foam coffee cup, or something more serious such as an environmental pollutant. Consumed by microorganisms, pieces of contaminated plastic cause disruptions in the food chain. Birds and marine animals also tend to mistake Styrofoam pieces as food, resulting in death. We’ve seen the birds at the Calgary landfill—trust us, they’ll eat pretty much anything vaguely food-shaped.
Let’s Break it Down… or Not
Because of polystyrene’s wide usage, an annual amount of 2.3 billion kilograms ends up in our landfills and waterways. The cost of recycling this material is said to be $3,000 per ton. As the United States alone produces 3 million tons per year, the cost adds up extremely fast. This plastic requires special compactors and logistical systems to be recycled, thus many cities and municipalities simply cannot accept it for recycling purposes. In recent years, more areas in Canada in the west and in the east are accepting plastic #6 for collection and then selling it on the open market to reclaimers.
Dust to Dust, Plastic to Worms
Recent research has described two new ways that Styrofoam may be broken down. The first is being broken down in the guts of meal worms. Secondly, certain soil bacteria seem to be able to convert styrene oil into biodegradable plastic PHA. However, the biodegradation of the plastic remains controversial.
Petroleum-based (made from oil), it is simply not sustainable to continue producing plastic number 6. With so many alternatives available, cities such as San Francisco and New York have lead the way and have outright banned the use and sale of this plastic. All it takes is a little creativity in developing and using alternatives to plastic. A company has even recently discovered a way to grow containers from fungi! Something as simple and easy as bringing your own reusable coffee cup to work helps cut down on Styrofoam waste- so why not do it?