What to do with Polystyrene? 

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Love it or hate it, we all know it. I’m talking about polystyrene, the often large, typically single-use material that keeps our boxed breakables intact and our to-go meals contained. 

Polystyrene, or number 6 plastics, is more commonly known by its brand name, Styrofoam™. The #6 identifies the resin of the plastic that makes polystyrene, and this type of plastic is either hard or soft. Rigid polystyrene is used to make items like CD cases and disposable cutlery, while soft polystyrene is made of mostly air and is used to make items like take-out food containers and cups, coolers, packaging, insulation, egg cartons, and building insulation. This type of plastic is notoriously difficult and costly to recycle. 

As you may have heard, local companies and recycling depots that have long accepted and/or processed soft polystyrene are no longer taking this material. This is largely due to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality no longer allowing chemical processing going forward, due to the environmental byproducts created by the process. There is potential for polystyrene to be accepted in the future, depending on rules created by way of the Recycling Modernization Act (legislation passed by the state in 2021). 

However, what should we do with polystyrene, especially the soft foam variety, until then? Short answer, it belongs in the garbage. 

  • Large pieces – Carefully break them down and put them in garbage bags. The large blocks are made up of smaller pieces that are very lightweight and easily blow away or out of garbage trucks, polluting the surrounding environment. 
  • Packing peanuts – Again, bag these up. Because they are so light, they are also difficult to contain. They often fly out of the trash, as well as landfills, contaminating the environment.
  • Take out cups, containers, and plastic utensils – Bagged garbage when possible.

But, you might ask, what if I have a rollcart garbage bin at home and one package’s worth of soft foam polystyrene fills up my entire garbage bin?

  • Bag it and add it in small batches over a few collection weeks to your regular bin contents.
  • You can set out an extra bag or two next to your garbage bin. Republic Services’ drivers will take note, and you will see an “extra bag charge” on your next bill (currently $6.78 if you have a 35-gallon cart—these are the most common-sized garbage roll carts).
  • Bag it and take it to the dump if you have a lot at once. Metro South Transfer Station in Oregon City or Metro Central Transfer Station in NW Portland. 

It may feel frustrating to throw these things away, but it is important to know what is recyclable and what isn’t, and then how to properly dispose of things that are garbage. Reducing polystyrene use overall is the best way to go. So, if possible, avoid buying and using polystyrene products!

As always, call with questions – Republic Services at 503-981-1278 or the City of Tualatin at 503-691-3093.

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