Student Perspective Piece
Written by Elo Lin, Zero Waste Team Member
There are many nightmarish materials out there for the conscientious recycler, but Expanded Poly Styerene (EPS), also known as the number 6 plastic, might own a top spot. It’s also known as Styrofoam, and this ubiquitous material has the unique chemistry property of being a great insulation product. But because Styrofoam releases toxins when it breaks down, it doesn’t biodegrade, and it’s difficult to recycle, it is always best to avoid usage whenever possible. Unfortunately, because of its unique insulation property, Styrofoam coolers are an essential product for laboratories, like the ones on our campus, because the material keeps their specimens and reagents at a constant cool temperature.
Reaching our campus’ goal of Zero Waste by 2020 requires that we nurture the second R of the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra by reusing products whenever possible. So how does that fit into the necessary styrofoam issue? Students from the Zero Waste team, along with Environmental Health & Safety, found that Sigma Aldrich and New England Biolabs have take-back programs for their styrofoam, meaning that we can send back the Styrofoam coolers after use and they will be repackaged and re-used. But what about all the other hundreds of Styrofoam packaging used on our campus that cannot be sent back to their original vendor?
The answer to this issue warrants a hearty and sustainable “Surf’s up!” Currently, UCSC is working with Sustainable Surf, a non-profit NGO that is helping the surf industry and the surfing community move toward sustainability. UCSC was able to get in contact with a new program within Sustainable Surf called Waste to Waves, which collects used and unwanted Styrofoam, compacts it, and then ships it to be recycled by a surfboard blank partner facility, Marko Foam.
A few successful collection days have taken place this year, but at the present time, Sustainable Surf is working through some permitting issues with the City of Santa Cruz to be able to use a central location in Santa Cruz to collect and compact a much greater volume of collected EPS foam from the wider Santa Cruz area. We will keep our newsletter and blog posted with details about the next collection day. Despite this temporary roadblock to converting our used styrofoam to surfboards, the program and this collaboration is a fantastic and fun adventure into news ways of solving issues of waste and sustainability. Hang Loose, Banana Slugs!