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Styrofoam can aid in gardening

I have a bunch of Styrofoam packaging left over from the holidays, and I was wondering what to do with it? Someone told me that none of the local recyclers will take it, so I should mix it into potting soil to help keep moisture near the roots.

I am worried that I would be polluting because from what I understand, Styrofoam is not biodegradable. Please help.

— Cheryl G., Medford

It's true that Styrofoam is rough on the environment, Cheryl, partially because there are few processing centers in the country that recycle it.

Environmental Web sites across the Internet report that Styrofoam takes up a lot of space in the country's landfills, but there are a few ways to deal with it in an Earth-friendly manner.

It is widely reported that mixing Styrofoam in potted plant soil can help save money, as it will make the soil last longer. Also, it will keep the soil moist for a long time, cutting down on the amount of watering needed to sustain a house plant.

However, the use of Styrofoam in potting soil should only be used for potted plants.

Denise Wolgamott, the recycling coordinator for Rogue Disposal and Recycling, advises that you refrain from mixing Styrofoam in soil for outdoor plants.

"Styrofoam does not break down, so we don't advise using it in potting soil," Wolgamott said.

Unfortunately, local recycling centers do not accept Styrofoam.

"It is very difficult and expensive to recycle Styrofoam," Wolgamott said.

Wolgamott says to use corn starch packing peanuts in gardens. Bacteria will break down this type of packing material, making it safe for the environment.

Most environmentalist Web sites will tell you to avoid buying Styrofoam when possible. When that is not feasible, they suggest giving used Styrofoam packaging to your local UPS or post office for re-use.

This way, you can do your part by keeping Styrofoam out of our landfills.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.