Toss your styrofoam in the right place

Syracuse University partners with local company to repurpose styrofoam packaging.

Styrofoam is common on campus. In fact, it's common any place where biomedical, chemical or other biological research in being conducted. Tomorrow, and on the first Tuesday of every month, Syracuse University's physical plant will be making stops at five buildings on campus to collect the myriad styrofoam containers.

What is it?

Also known by a less-sexy name, polystyrene, these large, white shipping packages pop up in most of the laboratories where biological materials need to be kept cold. Polystyrene boxes are thermal insulation containers made from non-renewable petroleum products that take more than 1,000,000 years to biodegrade. When they end up in landfills, polystyrene materials just sit there taking up more space than even hoarders of the immortal vampire persuasion care to deal with.

Where does it go?

Since implementing the program in 2010, SU has redirected 708 styrofoam containers from the landfill to a repurposing facility called Thermal Foams in Cicero, NY. Thermal Foams is part of the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (who knew that even existed?), meaning they are required to recycle any polystyrene that comes their way.

Once the myriad containers reach the factory, they are reduced to millions of little granules that can then be shoved inside stuffed animals and transformed into mattress foam pads. That Otto the Orange toy you're giving little sis for the holidays? Could've been your lab sample container in a former life.

How did it start?

The program came about in two years ago when SU research assistant professor Dr. Shelly Krummer noticed stacks and stacks of these containers around in Link Hall's Henderson Lab. "When we order something that has to be kept cold, it comes in these shipping containers, Krummer says. "Until 2 years ago, these just got thrown in the garbage."

She realized the boxes ended up in the trash and immediately got to work researching a facility that would accept the boxes. She contacted the SU Sustainability Division and the collection was organized for the first Tuesday of every month. "The labs I'm affilated with do well," Krummer says. She even encourages her students to reuse some containers as ice boxes.

The program didn't catch on at first, so Krummer and Melissa Cadwell, marketing manager of SU's Sustainabiliy Division, did some footwork. They visited every single lab on campus to provide information and instructions on how to participate and they've seen awareness skyrocket. Two labs have been added to the original collection list since the program began, according to Caldwell.

How can you help?

If you take class or study in the labs, Link Hall, Browne Hall, the Life Science Complex, Sci-Tech or the Physics Building, stamp a big recycling symbol on the first Tuesday of every month. Find SU Sustainability's instructions here, bug the lab manager to help you collect the boxes and sleep well knowing you're living a re-purposeful life.

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