Styrofoam, or Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS), commonly known as styrofoam, is a type of plastic that is commonly used in packaging materials, disposable cups, and food containers. While it is lightweight and durable, it is not biodegradable. In fact, it can take up to 500 years to decompose in landfills.
This is why recycling styrofoam is so important. Recycling will help in reducing its negative impact on the environment. But not all Styrofoam can be recycled, unfortunately. Styrofoam containers we all use for takeaways usually can’t be recycled. Styrofoam egg cartons, because they are made with a slightly different variety of expanded polystyrene, cannot be recycled.
In this post, we discuss the importance of recycling Styrofoam, how to recycle styrofoam, and what to do with products that cannot be recycled.
Is Styrofoam Recyclable Or Garbage?
Styrofoam is recyclable, and, in fact, needs to be recycled due to its massive effects on the environment. But you need to know which type of Styrofoam can actually be recycled. EPS #6 plastic can be recycled at special recycling facilities.
[Psst, if you’re a big coffee drinker, check out how to recycle k cups.]
Why is Styrofoam Bad for the Environment?
Styrofoam is pretty nasty for the environment, for so many reasons:
1 / It is Non-Biodegradable
Unlike organic materials like paper or food waste, Styrofoam does not decompose easily, and can take hundreds of years to break down. As a result, Styrofoam waste can accumulate in landfills, oceans, and other natural areas, leading to significant environmental problems. Plus, Styrofoam takes up valuable space in landfills, which are already overburdened with waste.
2 / It Creates Pollution and Hazardous Waste
Styrofoam is produced using a chemical called styrene, which is a known carcinogen and can cause respiratory problems in people who are exposed to it.
In addition, the production of Styrofoam requires large amounts of energy and resources, leading to significant environmental pollution.
Finally, when Styrofoam is incinerated, it releases toxic chemicals into the air, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, which can have harmful effects on human health.
3 / It Has Damaging Effects on Wildlife
When Styrofoam is improperly disposed of in the environment, it can break down into smaller pieces, which can be mistaken for food by animals such as birds, fish, and marine mammals. These animals ingest the Styrofoam, which can cause blockages in their digestive systems, leading to injury or death. Styrofoam waste also often entangles wildlife, leading to physical harm and even death.
So, you see it is extremely important to recycle Styrofoam. But Styrofoam is only accepted by a few, special facilities for recycling.
How To Dispose Of Styrofoam
Where to Recycle Styrofoam
1 / Local Recycling Centers
Many local recycling centers accept Styrofoam, but it is important to check with them first to ensure they have the capacity to recycle it.
Go to Earth911.com, and you can find out where your closest drop-off site is.
2 / Mail-Back Programs
Several companies offer mail-back programs for Styrofoam, allowing you to send it to a recycling center for proper disposal.
The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR) has a list of places (EPS Recyclers) that accept Styrofoam via mail.
3 / Collection Events
Some cities and organizations hold collection events for Styrofoam, where you can drop it off for recycling. You can even set up your own collection event, and actually sell the EPS to companies that buy them. The American Chemistry Council provides a list of companies that buy EPS for recycling.
How to Dispose of Polystyrene Peanuts
Packing peanuts aren’t accepted at recycling centers, annoyingly enough. Take the help of the Plastic Loose Fill Council to find a drop-off center in your city or in your state. Call their 24-hour Peanut Hotline at (800) 828-2214.
Methods for Recycling Styrofoam
Styrofoam recycling is expensive, and that’s why it is recycling centers that accept styrofoam are not common. There are three main methods for recycling Styrofoam. The first is mechanical recycling, which involves shredding Styrofoam into small pieces, which are then melted and reformed into new products.
The second is Chemical recycling, which involves breaking down the Styrofoam into its chemical components, which can be used to create new materials.
And the third is Thermal recycling, which involves heating Styrofoam to break it down into its component parts, which can then be used to generate energy.
Is Styrofoam Recyclable In California
Yes, styrofoam is recyclable in California. Check the government guidelines for plastics recycling, and also look for your local authorities’ checklist (for example, Los Angeles or Orange County). You can also check with Earth911 Recycling Styrofoam and Home Depot Styrofoam Recycling to find the best places for a drop-off.
What to Do with Styrofoam Products that Cannot be Recycled
1 / Reuse
If you receive a package with Styrofoam packing peanuts, save them for future shipments. Use Styrofoam sheets as insulation for your home or garage. Another option is to repurpose Styrofoam cups or trays as seedling starters for your garden.
2 / Donate
Schools and art centers use Styrofoam sheets for art projects, so they would appreciate any Styrofoam you can donate to them. Animal shelters can use Styrofoam packing peanuts as bedding for small animals. Check with your local organizations to see if they accept Styrofoam donations.
3 / Special recycling programs
While most curbside recycling programs do not accept Styrofoam, some communities offer special recycling programs for this material. These programs typically involve drop-off locations where residents can bring Styrofoam products to be recycled. Check with your local recycling center to see if they offer this service.
4 / Mail-back programs
Mail-back programs allow you to mail your Styrofoam products to a recycling center that specializes in this material. This option is more expensive than other methods, but it is an excellent way to ensure that your Styrofoam is properly disposed of.
5 / Last Resort: Landfill
If none of the above options are available in your area, the last resort is to dispose of Styrofoam products in the landfill. Obviously this is not ideal, but it is better than allowing the material to end up in our waterways and natural areas. (That’s how bad Styrofoam is!)
Alternatives to Styrofoam
Styrofoam is very useful, of course, like most plastics. But, we can get the same advantages by using other, more eco-friendly materials.
1 / Shredded Paper
Shredding your old newspapers, magazines, or scrap paper is a fantastic way to get rid of them and make them useful. And the best part is that shredded paper is not only compostable but also recyclable!
2 / Corrugated Wrap
Corrugated cardboard is great at absorbing shock, so you can trust it to keep your items safe and secure during transport or storage. It’s biodegradable.
3 / Organic Fabrics
Use waste organic fabrics if you have them lying around. They are biodegradable, and can also be repurposed.
Biodegradable peanuts are made with cornstarch. Great alternative for safely packing your precious items.
Also, check out how you can recycle bubble wrap.
Mushrooms have some useful properties: they can multiply quickly and easily be molded to the required shape. Plus, they are biodegradable and compostable!
6 / Biodegradable Air Pouches
These air filled pouches are perfect shock absorbers, and made from a special grade of plastic that can biodegrade in five years.
7 / Seaweed Packaging
Very useful for packing food items and liquid, seaweed is fully compostable and food-safe. Notpla, winner of the Earthshot Prize 2022, is a great example!
Frequently Asked Questions about Styrofoam Recycling
1 / Can all types of Styrofoam be recycled?
No, only clean and dry EPS #6 Styrofoam can be recycled.
2 / What happens to Styrofoam during the recycling process?
Styrofoam is broken down into small pieces and reformed into new products or materials.
3 / Is it cost-effective to recycle Styrofoam?
Yes, Styrofoam recycling is cost-effective as it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and saves energy.
4 / How much energy is saved through Styrofoam recycling?
Recycling one ton of Styrofoam saves approximately 90,000 kilowatt-hours of energy.
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