by Peter Elliott
Adam Quaglia, 16, moved to Chestnut Hill from Society Hill with his family in 2013, and is currently a sophomore at Germantown Friends School. When he is not in class, he works to combat one of the biggest threats to the environment: Styrofoam.
Styrofoam, also called expanded polystyrene, is a material often used in coffee cups and packing materials. When Styrofoam is thrown out, it can take thousands of years before the material begins to degrade. Quaglia believes it is ridiculous that a material we use for a short period of time can have such a long-term impact on our environment and health.
“I’ve been concerned about climate change since I was around 10,” Quaglia said. “The news just seems to keep getting worse. And when I learned that Styrofoam doesn’t go away and that the cup that I just used to drink a soda would likely still be here in 5,000 years, I knew that I had to try to do something.”
Quaglia started Styrofree in Chestnut Hill last December to prevent Styrofoam from ending up in landfills by recycling them through local business. Styrofree does this by collecting Styrofoam, which is then taken to a plant where the Styrofoam is processed, shredded and condensed into small, transportable blocks of Styrofoam.
He says that while he originally worked with local businesses through Styrofree, he is now in collaboration with other organizations around Philadelphia to spread the word about recycling Styrofoam.
“We started by reaching out to individuals and businesses that I already knew,” Quaglia said. “These initial contacts helped lead me to new opportunities. I have recently been in contact with a firm that specializes in promoting sustainability with businesses and schools. Many of their clients… see Styrofoam recycling as an important part of sustainability and I’m hoping we can work together to reach more businesses.”
While Quaglia has seen success with Styrofree, he admits that it isn’t easy running such a business. The most difficult part for Quaglia is convincing people across the Philadelphia area of the dangers of Styrofoam and the benefits of repurposing the material.
“My main struggles have been trying to convince consumers and businesses of the true dangers of Styrofoam and inform people of the right way to dispose of it,” Quaglia said. “A massive part of my business is relying on others feeling the same way I do, and luckily Chestnut Hill is the perfect neighborhood for that.”
Even at 16, Quaglia understands there can be advantages and disadvantages to running his business at such a young age. He insists that his experience running Styrofree shows he can make a difference in helping both the environment and society as a whole.
“On one hand, I feel that I can reach out to younger generations in a way that others cannot. I feel like I can be a role model for those students to join me in making a change,” Quaglia said. “On the other hand, I can imagine some businesses might feel cautious when working with a teenager. I’m just hoping to prove to them through my actions and hard work that I’m worth taking a chance on.”
Quaglia believes that while there should be a greater focus on recycling in general, Styrofoam is unique in that there is no proper way to dispose of it without harming the environment.
“The real issue with Styrofoam is how difficult it is to manage,” Quaglia said. “There isn’t a simple solution for disposing of it – it never goes away, and that’s why it’s filling up our landfills and waterways. We need to work with businesses and companies to stop using it, but until then, we can at least try to recycle it.”
Despite these obstacles, Quaglia is confident that Styrofree’s message of repurposing Styrofoam could eventually expand beyond the Philadelphia area and possibly beyond Pennsylvania.
“I feel that Styrofree could be spread across Pennsylvania, and maybe even the US,” Quaglia said. “Chestnut Hill has been the perfect area to start and I expect similar levels of excitement and effort from other areas of Philadelphia,” Quaglia said.
“My biggest takeaway is how passionate and committed the people of this area are regarding our environment,” he said. “I was shocked and delighted to see the interest of so many people. It’s also heartening to see that one person working with others can try and make a difference.”