Monday, April 5, 2010

Plastics #6

Number 6 Plastics, or polystyrene (PS), is a tricky polymer, indeed. Rigid polystyrene products include some carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, and compact disc cases. Foam, or expanded polystyrene (better known by its popular brand name, Styrofoam) is used in disposable plates and cups, egg cartons, carry-out containers, and packing material.

Although there are places in Chicagoland (such as the recycling station behind Abt Electronics in Glenview) to recycle expanded polystyrene, the City of Chicago does not accept #6 plastics in its blue carts or at its many drop-off locations. While this is understandable of expanded polystyrene, as Styrofoam is terribly difficult to recycle-- it's quite expensive, and Styrofoam takes up a lot of space and weighs next to nothing, so it's hard to keep from blowing away-- this leaves me with food containers and produce clam shells that I have little choice but to throw in the trash. Not cool.

Another thing that isn't so cool about polystyrene is that environmentalists and scientists alike suspect that, when heated, this plastic leaches toxins into foods and noxious fumes into the atmosphere. Looking back at the amount of hot chocolate I drank out of Styrofoam cups as a kid at camp, and the number of said cups that wound up being tossed into the campfire because it was cool to watch them burn, I cringe. So next time any one of you thinks about drinking a hot beverage out of a Styrofoam cup, think again.

Of the polystyrene that is actually recycled, it is turned into insulation, egg cartons, rulers, and packing materials.

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