Chosen Futures
  • Styrofoam and Curiosity

    January 02, 2012

    I was walking my dog shortly after Thanksgiving of 2009 when I crossed a trail of polystyrene pellets (commonly known as Styrofoam). It was garbage collection day, so I figured that when the truck picked up the garbage, a packing box tipped or fell and pellets scattered in the wind. Feeling somewhat self-righteous, I picked up a fair number of them, stuffed them in one of the plastic bags I carry for cleaning up after the dog, brought them home, and put them in my garbage – inside the plastic bag. I knew they aren’t recyclable, even in San Francisco, and I knew they don’t biodegrade, so I figured they were better off in landfill than drifting into San Francisco Bay.

    Over the next few days, I spotted quite a few more pellets, and I picked up a lot of them. Some of them were newly scattered, some seemed to be the residue of the first spill. The weeks between Thanksgiving and January 1 are actually high season for polystyrene gathering. A lot of gifts get shipped in that period, many of them are packed in pellets, and a lot of the stuff gets thrown away. The rest of the year there’s far less of it around, although I can usually tell when someone in the neighborhood has had a birthday or is getting married. Picking up pellets and larger pieces of polystyrene packaging has become a hobby for me, or maybe it has become an eccentricity.

    After two years of picking up the stuff, I got curious about how much I gather in a year. Styrofoam 1-1-2012.jpg.JPGIt was late last year, high season for packaging again, and I kept noticing how many pellets I was dumping into the kitchen garbage bag. We’re pretty abstemious about garbage in our home. The City makes it easy by requiring that we pay for garbage collection, but households don’t pay for compost or recycling pickup. So there’s not much in my actual garbage pail, the one destined for landfill. The last few weeks of 2011, most of our trash was the “fruit” of my collecting.

    But in 2012, my harvest is going into a box in the basement, at least until I get a good idea of how fast it piles up. I’m not sure what I’ll learn. I hope it won’t feed my self-righteousness. Maybe I’ll find a way to use my experience to help educate other people about how to throw out polystyrene pellets so they really end up in landfill rather than blowing in the wind. Not creating the material in the first place would be better than putting it in landfill, of course, but the streets of San Francisco are way out on the end of this particular supply chain. I’m not eccentric enough (yet) to start a campaign to ban pellets as packaging. I’ll see where my curiosity leads me, though, and meanwhile I’ll do my little bit to clean up the microtrash in my neighborhood.

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© 2020 Deborah Gavrin Frangquist, Chosen Futures