Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recycling Tip: Polystyrene Trays

It's time for another installment of "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tips"!

Please remember that this information is local and current for the City of Vancouver only, and may differ greatly from your municipality's waste management programme. If you're not in Vancouver, be sure to find out what the rules are where you live - and I always hope they're better than our set of rules!

Q: Where can I recycle #6 PS (polystyrene) food trays? In my blue bin with other containers?

A: You'd think so, but NO. Items marked #6 or PS are 
NOT recyclable anywhere in the Metro Vancouver area.

CURSES! Yet another ubiquitous garbage item that cannot be recycled. My rhetorical and annoyed follow-up question is "Then why are there so many of these stupid things in shops?!". Argh.

Aha - the one thing that stumped the Metro Vancouver Recycles website! Polystyrene!

We can't recycle these, just like we can't recycle empty coffee cups or milk cartons. So what can we do with them, apart from tossing them into landfills? (Here's a story out of Portland, Oregon, USA, where a school has actively replaced styrofoam trays with a more eco-option. The article mentions that Portland once did have a 'polystyrene recycler', but it was defunct by 2002...).


Firstly, stringently avoid purchasing these hateful little things, whenever possible. But when you can't, or you already have them, keep them - they stack and store easily.

Another very important consideration is to NOT reuse raw meat and fish trays because of the risk of Salmonella or E. coli contamination (among other lesser-known harmful bacteria). Veggies are good and safe - just give the trays a quick wipe with a soapy sponge and a rinse before putting them to use.

Here's a few ideas for reuse:

I use mine for painting. They work great.

  • paint palettes
  • kid's crafts (some ideas here)
  • motor oil drip catcher for under the car (if it's leaking, get it checked - I can't tell you the number of times I'd check someone's oil at the garage only to find it completely empty! Don't do that to your car - it's not environmentally wise to let your vehicle run inefficiently/die an untimely death!)
  • spoon rest for messy sauces
  • seedling pot spill-tray
  • support trays for the bottom of paper or gift bags
  • two trays in a large paper envelope can serve as a padded mailing envelope

And here's some more ideas I found on the internet:

Hmm. I have to say that there aren't a ton of really nifty reuses for these terrible trays.

Let us resolve to JUST SAY NO to POLYSTYRENE! For inspiration, visit the amazing blog and life chronicle called "Plastic Manners". For a great Canadian (CBC) documentary, I also recommend "Forever Plastic" - it answers many questions on what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

And remember: Just because the manufacturer has stamped a friendly little 'recycling code' symbol on it, DOESN'T MEAN IT'S RECYCLABLE. The sad fact is that no infrastructure + no market for that recycled material = no recycling programme in place.

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