CU student launches grassroots effort to ban use of polystyrene food containers in Boulder

City considers offering financial incentives

BOULDER, Colo. - A 22-year-old University of Colorado student is spearheading a grassroots effort to ban the use of Styrofoam products in Boulder.

“I grew up in Hawaii,” Alexandra Brower told 7NEWS. “I grew up in a beautiful space and just fell in love with the environment.”

When she moved to Boulder, Brower brought her passion for the environment with her.

Now, she’s targeting polystyrene food containers, which she says she’s seen too many times along roadways in her new home.

“Styrofoam does not biodegrade at all,” she told 7NEWS. “It sits in the environment forever and it’s going to outlive us for sure.”

Brower said that when she first approached city officials about the possibility of a ban, she was surprised to learn that state law forbids municipal governments from banning the “use or sale of specific plastic materials or products” and restrictions on “containers… for any consumer products.” (See C.R.S. Section 25-17-104)

So, Brower is now setting about to change state law.

She told 7NEWS that she’s created a petition on change.org and is trying to get 10,000 people to sign on, so she can go to the legislature to push for change.

“I’m just trying to get people involved and informed about what I’m trying to do,” she said, “and hopefully ignite them to create positive change in their homes and their community.”

Dan Matsch, manager of Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, said there are two main types of Styrofoam, block foam for packaging electronics and food-grade packaging.

“They can’t be combined,” Matsch said, “because they’re made with different formulas."

Matsch said the block foam can be recycled using a Styrofoam Densifier.

Block foam pieces are loaded into a grinder which cuts them up into golf ball size bits. The bits are then fed into a hopper which drops them down into the actual densifier. A hydraulic cylinder then condenses the pieces into a continuous rectangular block which is cut up into four foot sections for shipment to companies that use it to make architectural molding.

“Door case, window case, baseboard molding, that kind of stuff,” Matsch said. “It looks like wood, but it’s actually polystyrene.”

Match said that while block foam can be recycled, food containers cannot.

“There’s too much ick (leftover food) on that for any recycler to be interested in,” he said.

Match said that to his knowledge, Eco-Cycle’s densifier is the only one in Colorado being used to recycle Styrofoam for the public.

He said the state provided a grant to purchase the machine and that lawmakers are again reviewing the fund.

Brower said she’s glad someone is recycling Styrofoam, but adds she’d rather see commercial use end.

“In actuality,” she said, “you can recycle something, but it will eventually go back into a landfill.”

Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam issued a statement saying, “City staff has looked at options for reducing the use of polystyrene… Some options include new financial incentives for businesses to use alternative materials.”

Boulder had earlier passed a ban on the use of plastic grocery bags.

City officials said the state ban on municipal regulation of certain plastic products does not apply to grocery bags.

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