Around-the-House Hacks – IV

Did you realize that 99% of the meat packages you buy at your local grocery store come on Styrofoam trays with shrink-wrapped plastic? The Styrofoam tray is used to cushion the meat so that packages can be set upon each other without compromise to the appearance to the meat in each package. And, of course, we appreciate that and don’t give it much thought. And think about all of the take-out/to-go containers you get that are also made from Styrofoam!

Did you also know that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable? So that means that when you open the package to use the meat product and toss the tray in your trash, it is going to end up in a landfill where scientists believe it will remain in solid form for at least 500 years!! The very building block of expanded polystyrene foam (the name Styrofoam was trademarked by the Dow Company) plastic is petroleum, which is neither renewable nor sustainable.

So, why not find some creative ways to recycle/reuse this product? Sure, it’s most likely still going to end up in a landfill (people have burned it in campfires and the like, but it releases several toxic emissions when burned and shouldn’t be handled that way), but if we can get several uses from it before tossing it, we’re at least not creating additional landfill matter from using something else where Styrofoam can be reused.

The trays are easy to wash, usually fairly clean except for raw meat having touched it – nothing that hot, soapy water can’t erase. And there are so many ways in which the trays can be reused!

Having an outdoor picnic? We all know how flimsy paper plates can be, so why not offer your guests an appropriately-sized foam tray to use instead? They’ll surely appreciate the extra sturdiness while filling their plates. The larger trays also make good food platters for what you’re serving. Afterwards, if you don’t want to wash and reuse (and that’s the purpose of paper plates anyhow), you’ve gotten at least one extra use from them before they hit the landfill.

Have budding artists at home who like to paint? Foam trays make an excellent palette for dabs of the various paint colors they want to use, again, being much more sturdy.

Foam trays are also useful when you’re working on a project that requires separate colors of small beads. Using a hot glue gun on a metal stand? Put a piece of foam tray under the nozzle when the gun is in resting position and it will catch any small drops of melted glue from the nozzle between uses. Teaching a child to sew? Punch holes in a foam tray and fill a large-eyed blunt needle with yarn or multiple strands of embroidery floss and have them learn in an easier, more visual way! Draw and cut out patterns from your cookie cutters and let the kids decorate them for tree ornaments! And I’m sure many crafters could think of ways to use these items for their projects.

For the gardener, foam trays are great as disposable knee pads! Sure, they aren’t as cushiony as the pillowy-type knee pads you buy, but they do provide an extra layer of comfort and save your knees/pants from any mud or dirt. Use the trays to line the inside of your wooden garden walls, providing an extra layer of insulation for the garden.

Going on vacation and need an easy way to pack the jewelry you want to take with you? Use a piece of foam with holes for your pierced earrings and place the entire thing in a zippered plastic bag. They will stay secure in single pieces without becoming a tangled mess and you’ll be able to see right away each pair you have to choose from.

Foam trays are great for putting under planters that have drainage holes in the bottom. They will hold any excess water from watering the plant, as well as allowing that water to be pulled back in when the roots get dry.

If your feet get tired easily, grab clean foam trays and cut insoles for inside your shoes or boots. You’ll get an extra layer of cushioning for free!

Props for Halloween or party games can easily be cut from foam and then painted or decorated as needed.

And, when you’ve run out of ideas…. check out: to see if there is a recycling center near you.

Happy reuse/recycling!