Recycling Polystyrene in Portland, OR

Thursday, April 30, 2009

PLC Recycling Center 3, located at 4404 N. Suttle Road, Portland, OR 97217, is the place to go to drop off Styrofoam, which is actually a material called polystyrene. Styrofoam is a trademark of the Dow company. Before I started saving polystyrene for recycling, I hadn't realized how much comes through our house. Every once in awhile, we buy meat packaged on a polystyrene tray (though typically my preference is to get it fresh from the case), and we sometimes receive blocks in the mail. After reading about how toxic polystyrene is, I will no longer buy food packaged in it (ever notice how some eggs are packaged this way?). It's shocking that it's used at all to package food considering how toxic it is and how much petroleum is used in its production.

See these pallets? This is polystyrene, which has been converted into blocks ready for recycling--95% of its volume (air) has been removed! It's no wonder Polystyrene fills up more than 30% of the world's landfills--and it's not biodegradable! Not only that, it's toxic when manufactured, and the EPA has classified styrene as a possible human carcinogen.

Did you know that Portland, Oregon is one of twenty US cities to ban the use of polystyrene packaging in restaurants and other businesses? It's called the Polystyrene Foam Container Ban-- it was voted on in 1989, and went into effect in 1990, thanks to the work of Jeanne Roy, her group Recycling Advocates, and then-city Commissioner Earl Blumenauer. In Sustainable Life, Kate Gawf writes about this ban in an article titled, 18 years later, banned polymer lingers. I'm not sure most Portlanders know about the ban, but I can think of numerous occasions where my take-out container was polystyrene foam. If this happens, you can report a suspected polystyrene violation by calling the Office of Sustainable Development at 503-823-7202. They will notify the restaurant or business by letter, and if they don't comply within 30 days, they will be subject to a penalty.

This super huge pile . . .

is reduced by 95%, melted down, sterilized, and cooled in this container, at which point it is stacked onto pallets and shipped to California, where it is used to make a wide variety of plastics. Choosing not to buy any food packaged in polystyrene is an important step, but with what polystyrene that does come through your home, try to break it up to reuse as packaging. Otherwise, drop off all polystyrene blocks and foam at the PLC Recycling Center 3 located here:
View Larger Map

Oh, and one more thing--now that you know about Portland's Polystyrene Foam Container Ban, don't hesitate to turn in any restaurants that might still be using this product. Read through the city code and charter on this ban (17.102.300), as there are some exclusions for non-profit organizations and some foods, but for the most part, if your to-go container is polystyrene foam next time you eat out, maybe it's time to call Portland's Office of Sustainable Development!


Andrea said...

I was just going to look up this address because we have some styrofoam I wanted to get rid of this weekend. I can tell you put a lot of thought and work into these posts... they are great!

The Ferriter Family said...

Wow, this was a great reading! Thanks Karli!!
PS We have cut way back on trash thanks to reading your articles. I'm even going to get a compost bin for Mothers day :)!!!

cary perk said...

love your blog! thank you for the info. do you mind if I link to this article?

cary perkins

Beetles and Bees said...

Not at all! Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

There are some packages that look like Styrofoam, but are actually another plastic that is not banned. Do you know what it is? How to identify it? And is it food safe?

Beetles and Bees said...

They are probably polystyrene copolymers, which contain styrene, a classified human carcinogen. I wouldn't worry so much about identifying the different types as I would staying away from food wrapped in or served on any sort of tray that looks like it has styrene in it.

Claudia said...

Wow Karli!! A lot of information there!! You put a lot of work into that!

Wing said...

Hey there - great information. I love the mix of information and personal bits on your blog. I think it's a great way to get information out to your community. Here's another place that will take polystyrene foam for recycling:

Total Reclaim
5805 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland
Call (503) 281-1899 for more info and hours.

Note that both places will only take block foam, not food-related or peanuts. Packing peanuts will frequently be taken for reuse by shipping/mailing stores.

Paul Sammons said...

PLC Recycling center WILL take a certain type of packaging peanuts at their N Suttle Rd address, according to their phone representative [503-285-8777]. The woman at PLC with whom I spoke said that if the peanuts "break with a snap" or are brittle, then they are acceptable at that site. Packaging peanuts that are "spongy" in texture - as are many cups and takeout food containers - will mess up their processing machine. This is the same reason that they cannot accept food containers; they are slightly different in their chemical makeup from the block styrofoam.

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