Supporting recycling, Northfield resident organizes Styrofoam collection

  • Northfield resident Annie Chappell with Styrofoam she has collected to be recycled. Roughly 30 people contributed materials. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Northfield resident Annie Chappell with Styrofoam she has collected to be recycled. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Northfield resident Annie Chappell with Styrofoam she has collected to be recycled. Roughly 30 people contributed materials. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2021 6:01:19 PM

NORTHFIELD — While looking to properly recycle a personal accumulation of Styrofoam, Northfield resident Annie Chappell wondered if her neighbors might have similar collections of their own. Through a post on the Nextdoor community forum, Chappell found the answer was a resounding “Yes.”

“We now have enough to fill a 15-foot box truck,” she said of her “verifiable mountain” of the packing product that is being delivered to Gold Circuit E-Cycling in Palmer this month for recycling.

Chappell said Bob Emberly, pastor of Northfield’s Community Bible Church, has graciously allowed her to store the collected material in a garage bay at 105 Main St. where the church and Deerfield Valley Art Association gallery are housed. Chappell said the material is now “towering” in the garage bay, with another 30 people having dropped off their Styrofoam.

The Palmer facility will re-process the Styrofoam into insulation and other products, keeping it out of landfills.

“My husband and I have taken stuff down there before,” Chappell said.

The distance to the facility encouraged her to reach out to others to collect as much Styrofoam as they could, to make the trek as economical as possible. But in this case, she said Gold Circuit E-Cycling has agreed to pick up the collection. According to the company’s website, the cost for anyone looking to drop off Styrofoam and cardboard is $20 per vehicle, no matter the quantity.

While she tries to limit her personal Styrofoam use, Chappell said “you don’t have any recourse” when large manufacturers send products with the material in their packaging. She encourages others to look for local products to replace items they may been ordering online, as “the convenience of stuff coming in the mail comes with an environmental cost.”

No. 6 polystyrene, “the rigid white foam that comes around shipped products,” has more than 50 different chemicals used in its production and is “one of the really bad guys,” Chappell said.

Styrofoam is also known as expanded polystyrene and is “expanded” because of the inclusion of air in the manufacture of polystyrene that gives it its lightweight properties. The foam is simply devised of a network of beads fused together to provide insulation, cushioning and protection. Improper disposal of Styrofoam leads to it inadvertently biocaccumulating in food-chain systems and filling up large percentages of landfills.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people reached out and were excited to get it out of their storage and cupboards,” Chappell continued. “Maybe people, like myself, have been storing it because you can’t throw it in the trash.”

“Don’t throw your foam away. There is no ‘away,’” advises, a website operated by Gold Circuit E-Cycling. “Foam is plastic. Plastics do not decompose over time. They can stick around literally forever, contaminating this planet long after you and I are gone.”

However, the reuse applications of recycled foam are abundant. From framing and molding products, to new insulation and film/foam products, foam can consistently be recycled over and over again, the website states.

Gold Circuit E-Cycling does not take packing peanuts due to the fact there are a variety of different kinds and colors, and it only takes one to contaminate the melting process. The company also doesn’t take food containers because of the food contamination left behind in them, which will also contaminate the melting process. Foreign colors and dirty materials will, again, contaminate the process, the website reads. The recycling process has to be clean and white for the end result to be accepted by manufacturers for the creation of new products.

The Palmer facility increases the density of the Styrofoam onsite by first crushing it and removing the air, followed by a hot melting application. Gold Circuit E-Cycling can use recycled expanded polystyrene to make picture frames, baseboard or crown molding, building insulation and insulating boards known as extruded polystyrene.

Franklin County Solid Waste Management District Director Jan Ameen explained why it can be difficult for municipalities to operate Styrofoam collections in a cost-effective manner. It can be difficult to ensure the loads are not contaminated, and local transfer stations may not have the space for a substantial Styrofoam collection unit. Even with a low drop-off fee, she said towns would need to collect large amounts of the material to warrant the costs of transporting it to a recycling facility.

“With any waste or recyclable, one of the major costs is transportation,” Ameen said. “You’ve just got to truck it somewhere.”

Ameen said she was pleased with the results of Chappell’s independent collection, and said it’s possible other towns could use this as inspiration and a model for their own efforts.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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