Engineering staff work to improve Styrofoam recycling
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 08:10
Chemical Engineering Lab Coordinator Emily Edwards and Research Assistant in the Electrical Engineering Department Abbey Licht are working to promote more effective ways of recycling Styrofoam at Tufts.
Since the fall of 2011, Edwards began collecting Styrofoam boxes in order to redirect them away from landfills, she said. According to Edwards, the Biomedical Department orders a variety of material that comes packaged in Styrofoam coolers. Unfortunately, while the boxes were not thrown away, about 60 boxes of Styrofoam accumulated each month in the hallways used by the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department in the Science and Technology Center (Sci-Tech) by her office.
When Edwards took up the project, the existing method of disposing the Styrofoam was by sending it to local company called ReFoamIt in Framingham, Mass. The company would send the Styrofoam containers to a plant in Rhode Island, which compressed them into logs that could be made into recycled products, Edwards said.
Although Edwards and Licht were content with this process, they said it was unnecessary for the boxes to be transported all the way to Rhode Island to be compacted since Styrofoam is 89 percent air.
“I wasn’t happy that we had to send the Styrofoam to Rhode Island,” Edwards said. “It seemed like quite a process.”
Edward and Licht then tried to compact the boxes themselves. After months of experimenting, they began a partnership with Save That Stuff, Inc., an organization that works to provide cost-effective alternatives to waste disposal and does not require the boxes to be compacted before they are recycled.
“The company gives us these giant burlap sacs with a lid on top,” Edwards said. “We dump the collected Styrofoam into it, and Save That Stuff comes once a month with a truck which takes it away.”
While the pair was not able to find a way to compact the Styrofoam on their own, Licht believes their experience with Save That Stuff has been satisfactory.
“I think it is the best solution for now, but not a perfect solution,” Licht said. “Ideally, the best solution would be to not purchase products that are shipped with Styrofoam at all.”
Through increasing awareness of their efforts, Edwards and Licht hope to find more departments on campus facing the issue of accumulating Styrofoam and help them set up a partnership with Save That Stuff.
“We think 200 Boston Avenue has a lot of labs that use this material, and it would be really great to have something accessible to all buildings on campus where we can streamline the process,” Licht said. “Right now, there isn’t an alternative, so people just throw the material into the trash.”