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Rudi Kiefer: There’s an easy way to discard unused foam items, packaging
Rudi Kiefer
Like so many things, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Purchase a household appliance, computer, television set or even a simple toolbox, and in most cases you receive a free load of foam packing along with it. The hard molded shapes are a pain to break up into smaller pieces for disposal. Strictly speaking, this isn’t “Styrofoam.” That brand name, also known as “XPS foam,” applies only to the blue panels used for home insulation made by the Dow Company. The white stuff securing your new toaster in the box is expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS.

Some, but not all, convenience stores and fast food chains still offer hot drinks and food in flexible foam containers.  They are No. 6 polystyrene, not Styrofoam. Dow points out that “there are no Styrofoam cups.” None of these cups  should go to the landfill because polystyrene foam is non-biodegradable. It doesn’t dissolve, won’t rot, and will therefore be around forever. But a walk down rural North Georgia roads still reveals thousands of coffee cups and hamburger boxes discarded by uncaring motorists. Unless volunteers pick them up, they’ll be disgracing the countryside forever. It’s a strange contradiction to make disposable food and drink containers out of materials that won’t ever go away.

Good news came from Maryland this month. Both chambers of government passed legislation outlawing the use of polystyrene foam for disposable cups, carry-out containers and general food packaging.  Georgia hasn’t reached this stage yet. The website of the Hall County Recycling center doesn’t list polystyrene foam. Many Publix food stores accept the soft No. 6 cups (empty, please) for recycling. In Gwinnett and Rockdale County, some recyclers take the hard EPS and soft No. 6 foam products. But for most consumers, the hard chunks of EPS foam are difficult to get rid of and tend to end up in the landfill.

The easiest way for consumers to stop accumulation of the made-forever trash is to buy from restaurants and convenience stores that use safer alternatives. Coffee from biodegradable cardboard cups tastes just as good, and the same is true for takeout trays.

Some more good news about non-degradable foam came from science recently.  In China, experiments showed that mealworms can eat polystyrene foam and survive on that diet. CNN reported on this in 2015. However, I haven’t seen any recent updates about it.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at