May 4, 2015 / Andrew Brown

Consumer Education Starts with Local Communities

When plastic water bottles became the target of bans a decade ago, the industry rallied. By educating consumers, the industry changed consumer perceptions about the product. Today, plastic water bottles are commonplace.

Polystyrene faces a similar dilemma, with similar opportunities. “One of the biggest myths about polystyrene and the reason the bans are starting is the misconception that polystyrene litter is a large stream in waterways or landfills. That's just not the case,” says Kristen Mertins, global styrene business development manager at Shell Chemical.

Concerns about polystyrene recyclability are also unfounded. To promote recycling of polystyrene, Mertins works on several consumer education initiatives. She’ll talk about those initiatives and lessons learned during Playing to beat the banned, an education session at Stewardship 2015.

Some of those initiatives are with the city of Houston and its school system. “We're working closely with Houston to get recycling to be part of a potential new recycling program,” says Mertins. “In the session, I’ll talk about how we approached the city and what my group has done to garner their support.”

The Houston Task Force is a group of styrenics organizations that approached the city with technical support to ensure it includes polystyrene in its recycling waste stream. The group also organized and hosted a booth at Earth Day Houston that educated the general public about the recyclability of polystyrene and the end use of the recycled product.

Mertins will also share details from an initiative with the Houston City School System. “The city started using compostable trays that cost an additional $1 million per year and produced too much volume for anyone local to handle, so they were still going to the landfill,” says Mertins. “The other alternatives were just as costly and did not reduce trash. We joined a pilot program that's going to save the city of Houston millions of dollars per year that they can put back in their education program.”

Andrew Brown

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