Heal the Ocean and MarBorg have launched a joint initiative to divert Styrofoam products from the county’s landfill at Tajiguas, operating collection sites out of MarBorg’s buyback facility on Nopalitos Way downtown and its recycling location on David Love Place by the airport. In the first few days of operation, MarBorg’s Brian Borgatello reported 55 cubic yards’ worth of donations.
Borgatello said if there’s sufficient public response, his company would invest in a compacting machine that reduces the foam into blocks that can be sold and re-used to make a host of products. But that, he said, would require 10,000-20,000 pounds a month.
Styrofoam is exceptionally light for all the volume it takes up. Landfill storage capacity is measured in terms of volume of space available, but diversion rates are calculated in terms of weight. According to a 2009 report — the most recent — Styrofoam took up only 0.6 percent of what is dumped annually at Tajiguas, of which 0.4 percent was from take-out food containers, which have since been banned by the City of Santa Barbara. According to a University of Washington study, it takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose.
“It’s a necessary evil,” said Hilary Hauser of Heal the Ocean, who helped spark the project. “It seems people can’t live without it.” By finding commercially attractive uses, it’s her hope to keep as much of it out of the landfill as possible. Some of the pieces turned in thus far, she said, were “as big as the State of Indiana.” Because the wind whips around so easily, it has to be corralled in trailers and packed in large bags.
Of commercial interest to Borgatello are the large Styrofoam pieces used for packing big-screen TVs and similar products. Foam used in construction is good, too, he said, unless there’s mud or other debris. No food service foam, he said, can be accepted.