The average consumer will run into polystyrene hundreds if not thousands of times in a year. Often known under the brand name Styrofoam, it is used in everything from home insulation to packing material, coffee cups to meat trays.
And most of it ends up in landfills.
A group of students at Langley's Kwantlen Polytechnic University has an idea on how to change that.
Grace Lo, Alexandra Strigun, Kazumi Dokutake and Clark Topper started their efforts as a class project in their Environmental Legislation course.
Teacher Andrew Frank was impressed by their proposal: they want to require stores and manufacturers to accept the return of polystyrene materials.
Lo noted that there are recycling programs for other kinds of plastics, but little that is easily accessible, or cheap, for polystyrene.
According to Strigun, polystyrene is at least 1.7 per cent of the material in Metro Vancouver landfills, and up to six per cent in Edmonton.
Other studies showed a much higher proportion, possibly because some other landfill materials rot and compress - and polystyrene doesn't.
Recycling the stuff now is a chore for consumers, who can't simply toss it in blue boxes. There are a few recycling locations, but they can charge $3-$7 per bag to accept it.
Getting the material out of landfills and back into recycling programs will conserve oil, and extend the life of landfills, reducing costs for groups like Metro Vancouver, the group explained.
They want retailers to create return programs. Wal-Mart and London Drugs already have programs to return it, but the group would like to see that expanded and made mandatory for stores selling polystyrene packaging.
The first and second year students have contacted the Ministry of the Environment and are taking their idea out of the classroom this month.