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It's tough to recycle styrofoam

My question is one of concern for the environment. I am an avid recycler of cans, bottle, milk jugs, etc.

I love that I can put all of my recycles into one bin and have it hauled off with some piece of mind that it will be reused. However, I have come across something that is a very big concern for me. I have recently been having some things delivered to my home that are not available locally and it comes packed in a lot of styrofoam. The Rogue recycling does not take this as a product to recycle although it is marked "please recycle" and has the triangle and number information on it. I was wondering why don't they take this as a recyclable product and where is the closest place that does take this sort of thing to properly and responsibly dispose of it?

—J. Martin, Medford

While we applaud your effort to be environmentally responsible J., it turns out recycling styrofoam can be a rather dense subject.

In fact, the reason Rogue Disposal doesn't take in styrofoam for recycling is an issue of density, space and cost-effectiveness, according to Rogue Disposal's Recycling Coordinator, Denise Barnes.

Barnes said although styrofoam takes up a large amount of space, the material is actually 99 percent air. In order to recycle it, styrofoam must first be compressed with a densifier, something Rogue Disposal doesn't have.

If they wanted to recycle styrofoam themselves, the company would have to haul it up to Eugene where the closest densifier is, something that isn't financially appealing, said Barnes.

"Nobody wants to pay to transport air," said Barnes, who added there are no recycling centers that take styrofoam in the Southern Oregon area.

Barnes said she hopes in the future that the price of densifiers goes down so that Rogue Disposal might be able to buy one.

In the meantime, options for avid recyclers are limited, and costly.

Barnes said there are some mail-in styrofoam recycling programs, but then the cost of being green is left on the recycler, who must pay the postage.

"The styrofoam does get recycled but then you're footing the bill," she said.

Barnes said anyone seeking more information about styrofoam recycling or mail-in programs can contact Rogue Disposal at 541-779-4161.

And one other thing Barnes wanted to add, about those little "recycling" triangles on the bottom of styrofoam and other products, "they mean nothing."

Barnes said triangles with numbers inside of them are an identification code that reveals what type of resin was used to make the product, and have no correlation to whether or not the item is recyclable.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.