Freetown woman collecting Styrofoam to recycle

Ryan Cooke
Published on January 12, 2014

Susan Marchbank has been collecting Styrofoam from friends and family, as well as local businesses, for a while now. Non-biodegradable, and non-recyclable on P.E.I., the packaging product can make for a real environmental hassle. 


Ryan Cooke/Journal Pioneer

LOWER FREETOWN – For most people, the biggest problem about Styrofoam is how the heck you will ever fit it back in the box.

For Susan Marchbank, it’s much more complicated than that.

A tower of Styrofoam sits in her living room, circling six feet across, and reaching towards the high ceilings of her Freetown home. Bits and pieces stagger upwards, remnants of presents and shipments, packing peanuts and parcels.

For most people, Styrofoam is nothing more than a pain in the neck on Christmas morning – an obstacle between your hands and an over-packaged present, with the unbearable, shrill squeaking noise as it rubs against the side of a cardboard box.

For Susan, it’s an environmental nightmare – a non-biodegradable, petrochemical toxin, waiting to leach out into your air, water and food. And so here it sits in her home, waiting to be shipped off to Moncton to be recycled.

It’s a collection she started several years ago, taking it off the hands of her friends and family, as well as stores and companies, such as Hallmark.

“Most people don’t really think about it,” she said. “But the way I see it is, what if you were dumping it in your own backyard? Then would you take notice?”

Growing up a farm, Marchbank was aware from a young age of the importance to recycle whatever you can. Manure from the animals was spread in the fields; leftover food was used for compost. Being friendly to nature was instilled early, and became a lifelong passion.

And so when she read an article detailing the effects of Styrofoam three years ago, she decided to take action. As a registered nurse at Prince County Hospital, the studies alarmed her.

“It seeps into your food when you microwave it. It leeches into your water when you throw it out. It’s a big problem worldwide, so I thought, ‘Well, what can I do about it?’”

After doing her research and calling around, she came to realize Prince Edward Island doesn’t recycle Styrofoam. Instead, it gets tossed in the waste, where it could spend a lifetime in a landfill.

Upon realizing this, Marchbank began collecting it and using it for other means. The first thing she did was make beds for her dogs out of corn-based packing peanuts. Now she sends it to Off-the-Bat Pottery in Borden-Carleton, where it’s re-used in their packaging and sent around the world.

In Moncton, however, the Westmorland Waste Management facility recycles Styrofoam. Upon learning this, Marchbank began sending her collection across the bridge with every opportunity she got.

“The collection we have here today, it’s looking pretty light compared to what it was,” she said as she walked into her living room and looked over the foam tower. “We recently brought a bunch over to be recycled.”

This past week, in a letter to the editor published in the Journal Pioneer, Marchbank encouraged Islanders to “put our thinking caps on,” and begin working towards a solution at home. She received several phone calls afterwards, with people asking her how they could help out.

In her calls around the Island, Marchbank got in contact with Heather Myers of Waste Watch – a program launched by provincial crown corporation, Island Waste Management Corp. While Myers said they were looking for options for better disposal of Styrofoam, Marchbank believes it doesn’t have to be a problem for government or corporations to solve.

“People rely on government too much to make changes. We’re all intelligent people. It’s time we start doing things for ourselves.”

Bringing things back to the grassroots and starting at home has become somewhat of a life motto for Susan.

“The way I see it, if we each just look after one little aspect of the environment, we can come together and make a big difference. So this is my thing.”

If you would like to help out or just learn more, she welcomes anyone to call her at 887-3217.