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35 tons of styrofoam diverted from Edmonton landfill in 2022

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Since expanding in February last year, a recycling program in Edmonton has diverted enough styrofoam to stack as high as the Stantec Tower.

Styrofoam is a brand name for expanded polystyrene (EPS), and before 2021, this highly recyclable material went into Edmonton's landfill, where it takes around 500 years to break down.

"It sits there for eternity, essentially," said Tony Colangelo, acting director of collection services at the city of Edmonton.

After seeing early success, Colangelo said the EPS recycling pilot was expanded in 2022, and now the City of Edmonton accepts large styrofoam pieces, like blocks, packaging and coolers, at all four city eco-stations for free.

The EPS is collected by a local recycling company, Styro Re Cycle, which compresses the plastic and sells it to other companies that further process it for other uses.

Leighton Larson, president and co-founder of Styro Re Cycle, said polystyrene is a highly recyclable material with many uses in manufacturing and can be recycled effectively up to four times.

Because it breaks apart easily, EPS can also contaminate other recycling and should not be put in blue bags. It's a quality that makes it an environmental nuisance, Larson said.

"Styrofoam is problematic because it breaks into the little beads," he added. "That gets into our natural environment, birds like to eat it, it gets into waterways, it basically becomes a plastic pollution."

Styro Re Cycle picks up EPS waste from Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Strathcona Country and Devon. Since 2022, the company has processed around 35 tons of EPS.

St. Albert also accepts EPS at the Mike Mitchell Recycling Depot, which another recycling company processes.

Food containers and cups made of EPS cannot be recycled, and they are included in a list of single-use items to be banned in Edmonton under the Single-use Item Reduction Bylaw, which goes into effect in July.

The Government of Canada has also legislated the phasing out of EPS single-use items, with the sale of those items prohibited starting Dec. 20, 2023.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson