Green Michiana: A Sustainability Fair for Home, Garden and Road, held April 12th on IU-South Bend’s campus, provided an opportunity for area citizens to get ideas on:  

  • Environmentally friendly and Fair Trade products
  • Options in home heating, green roofs, home design and indoor air quality
  • Green gardening and landscaping
  • Alternative transportation

Green Michiana was a follow-up to last year’s highly successful “Bag Fest”, a campus event encouraging students and area residents to bring plastic bags and Styrofoam for recycling. This year, in addition to plastic bags, visitors were asked to drop off personal computers and cell phones as well as Styrofoam egg cartons, packing peanuts and packaging forms for recycling.

Results of Green Michiana’s Styrofoam Collection Efforts

Deb Marr, event co-coordinator, reported this year’s attendees brought 2,000 gallons of Styrofoam peanuts and 5,000 gallons of expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam used for packing electronic equipment and to make coolers). This represented two-and-a-half times as much Styrofoam as was collected at last year’s “Bag Fest”, enough to nearly fill a 24-foot moving truck!

The packing peanuts will be shared with IUSB’s Sculpture Art Classes and UPS packaging stores. Tegrant Corporation in Michigan City, Indiana will receive the expanded polystyrene; they will break apart the Styrofoam and mix it with new Styrofoam beads to be remolded into new Styrofoam products. Over 300 Styrofoam egg cartons were also collected, which will be sent to local farmers and a church group.

Let’s kick the Styrofoam Habit

According to Ms. Marr, an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at IUSB, the trouble with Styrofoam is that its main component is styrene (C8H8).  Styrene is a derivative of petroleum or natural gas formed by a reaction between ethylene and benzene (produced from coal or synthesized from petroleum). Petroleum and natural gas are non-renewable resources and polystyrene does not biodegrade. Reusing Styrofoam decreases the amount of petroleum and materials required to make new expanded polystyrene, however even the “recycled” Styrofoam manufactured by Tegrant contains only 10% post-consumer materials.

Styrofoam food packaging cannot be recycled because of the waxy coating and contamination from food. It would seem wise to stop using Styrofoam altogether, particularly for food, by rejecting produce or meats on Styrofoam trays in the grocery store and asking for foil to wrap leftovers at your favorite restaurant. For packaging, more sustainable alternatives to Styrofoam are readily available such as shredded paper and biodegradable packaging made from cornstarch.  Egg cartons made from cardboard pulp also seem to make more ecological sense than using Styrofoam.

I’m glad Green Michiana prevented so much Styrofoam from heading to our landfills to sit for eons. However as we learn more about unsustainable materials such as Styrofoam, we must embrace alternatives so that the Styrofoam collection center at IUSB’s Green Michiana can become a thing of the past.


Watch a You-tube video of Green Michiana

Produced by the St Joe Valley Greens/Green Party, this piece includes interviews and video clips from this highly successful event.

Coming soon: results on Green Michiana’s computer and plastic bag recycling efforts

Organizers handling the computer and plastic bag collection drives will be sharing their results to be posted on this site in the next few days.