First E.L. Styrofoam recycling station convenient for residents
East Lansing unveiled its new polystyrene recycling station earlier this month, and city officials have so far been pleased with the rollout.
The station is located at the city’s Public Works Department headquarters at 1800 E. State Road and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The city will not accept insulation material, foam packing peanuts or starch-based packing peanuts. All recycled products must be free of food waste as well.
Foamed polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is notorious for its inability to break down in landfills, which makes it important to have such a program, East Lansing Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo said.
Noting the widespread use of the material, she said it was logical for the city to begin offering Styrofoam recycling.
“When you buy a new TV and you have that packaging, those pieces of foam inside that box can overwhelm your trash container,” DeShambo said. “We’d really prefer that not to go to the landfill, we’d prefer it to be recycled, and it can be recycled. Now, with this new station, we’ve given our residents a really convenient way to do that.”
DeShambo said she was thrilled to see such a positive response to the new station, which is the first of its kind in East Lansing.
Other polystyrene recycling stations can be found throughout the region in Mason, Holt, St. Johns and Charlotte, but DeShambo said residents are much happier with a drop-off point in their own city.
“We’ve had so many people tell us how grateful they are that they don’t have to drive to Mason anymore with their foam,” DeShambo said. “We’ve had a really high volume, and the material that people have been recycling has been very clean. People are following the rules, and we’ve been really pleased with that.”
While the move was made with environmental sustainability in mind, the city also sought to keep the new program financially sustainable as the city faces a budget crunch. Recycling polystyrene can be expensive for cities, as few processors are able to properly recycle the material, DeShambo said.
Because of this, the city was not able to include Styrofoam recycling in its curbside pickup program — the processor responsible for that program was not equipped to handle polystyrene. The city of San Diego, California — which instituted its Styrofoam recycling program in 2017 — estimated it will lose approximately $90,000 a year as a result, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report.
It’s important to note San Diego has a population nearly 30 times that of East Lansing’s, however. The push for environmental sustainability outweighs the question of whether the program will operate in the black, City Manager George Lahanas said.
He did not say whether the city would lose money on recycling Styrofoam, but said even if it did, it would be seen as a worthwhile endeavor.
“Recycling overall really isn’t a profitable line of business, but neither is trash and putting things into a landfill,” Lahanas said. “When you’re recycling, you have to think of the value to the environment — that you’re diverting materials from the landfill and back to productive use.”
Lahanas said the city does not anticipate expanding Styrofoam collection efforts beyond the drop-off point at the Public Works building.
Realizing the need to operate such a program at a low cost, the city also sought to partner with outside organizations on Styrofoam recycling.
The new station was funded in part by a recycling infrastructure grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which supplied more than $14,000, DeShambo said.
This grant money was not solely for Styrofoam recycling, and will also fund other projects like expanded recycling efforts downtown and in city parks, DeShambo said.
The city also partnered with Dart Container Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups and containers with headquarters in Mason, to handle the recycling process at no cost to the city.
DeShambo said the city was “really fortunate” to have a company in the region equipped to handle Styrofoam recycling, as Dart will turn materials received at the new station into polystyrene products, like picture frames, instead of letting them sit in a landfill.