Since the city of Fort Worth began offering Styrofoam recycling to residents in 2019, Kathryn Hansen has been hauling the waste to one of the city’s four drop-off stations. She limits the amount of Styrofoam she uses on a weekly basis, but the product can feel unavoidable. 

“I even take stuff from work,” Hansen said. “I can’t stop someone from bringing Sonic in or whatever, but I do tell them: ‘Hey, go rinse your cup out. We have a collection box where we collect the Styrofoam eligible to be recycled.’ And I was taking it once a month before (the city) stopped collecting it.” 

In June, Hansen visited a drop-off station on 2400 Brennan Ave. and learned that Fort Worth’s specialized machine – which shreds and compacts Styrofoam into logs before they are sold to be used in crown molding and picture frames – was broken. 

Rather than throwing the material into her trash can, Hansen has collected Styrofoam from the past four months into two large bags as she awaits an update. Members of the Facebook group Fort Worth Eco Friendly Eating and Shopping, which Hansen founded during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify restaurants and stores using compostable containers, have reported doing the same. 

“I’ve really been kind of lost without it, just gathering all the Styrofoam because I will not throw it in the trash,” Hansen, a former Keep Fort Worth Beautiful board member, said. “I would rent a storage unit and store it in there before throwing it into the trash.” 

The machine was down for about 90 days, but is back online and ready to accept new materials from residents, said Rex Johnson, a Fort Worth environmental manager who oversees the city’s household hazardous waste program. 

The code compliance department had to wait months for specialized replacement parts to arrive from Asia, and then a power surge resulted in more damaged parts, he said. 

“We tried to continue on, and as we continued on, it caused more issues with the machine,” Johnson said. “That was more of us trying to fulfill the needs of the citizens of Fort Worth, and make sure we keep the number of complaints down. But in doing that, it caused more issues. That’s where the delay actually started.” 

Issues with the transformer powering the machine required repairs from utility company Oncor, further delaying the process, said Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth’s code compliance director. 

What is accepted and not accepted at Fort Worth’s drop-off stations? 

Materials should be empty, clean and dry. Avoid materials with grease or food stains.

Accepted:

  • Cups, coolers and foam ice chests.
  • Egg cartons.
  • Rigid packaging such as Styrofoam used for shipping and packing electronics and other items.
  • To-go clamshell containers used for food items.

Not accepted:

  • Colored, dyed or treated Styrofoam.
  • Construction/siding foam.
  • Meat and food trays.
  • Flexible packing sheets.
  • Plastic or paper containers.

The department has continued to accept and store Styrofoam in a warehouse but has not been encouraging people to bring it to drop-off stations, he said. Hansen said many of her friends who also recycle their Styrofoam were not told about the option to give their Styrofoam to the city while the machine was down. 

“We don’t have infinite storage space, and in some cases, I’m sure people disposed of Styrofoam because we don’t collect it at the curb,” Bennett said. “We probably won’t be collecting it at the curb anytime soon.” 

Fort Worth and Frisco are the only cities in North Texas operating their own Styrofoam recycling programs. Styrofoam, made of an expanded polystyrene plastic foam, is notoriously expensive and difficult to recycle. The product takes at least 500 years to decompose. 

Most cities don’t recycle the materials because of the upfront costs and lack of markets to sell the materials, Bennett said. 

“It keeps it out of the landfill, but it doesn’t generate revenue,” he said. 

To recycle Styrofoam at a drop-off station, visitors must be a Fort Worth resident and bring identification to prove that they live in the city, such as a driver’s license or water bill with a current Fort Worth address. 

The stations also accept grease and other common household chemicals like paint and motor oil. Participants in the city’s residential food scrap composting program can also drop off their materials at these stations in addition to other locations. 

Hansen is excited for the program to return, and remains proud of Fort Worth for being one of the only cities to offer this service. But the best solution to reducing Styrofoam pollution is to buy from businesses that use compostable or recyclable packaging, and encourage other companies to do the same, she said. 

“If you order a TV or something like that, you can’t help it. It always comes packed in those big molded Styrofoam pieces, and then you don’t have a choice,” Hansen said. “But the way to help deal with the problem is to just not use the stuff, period. Try not to go to any places that use it.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...