Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Yes, but it isn’t easy.

Styrofoam Recyclable

Let’s answer a common question, is styrofoam recyclable? If you want the tl;dr version and skip over the impact of styrofoam on our environment, click here to be directed to recycling resources.

Styrofoam is commonly used in packaging material. You may even have some lying around waiting to go the trash. Let’s learn more about this product and the harm it can have on the environment.

The Impact of Styrofoam on the Environment

Although styrofoam is recyclable, it is not easy. Therefore, these products take up a lot of room in landfills. Let’s be real, ease of recycling directly impacts whether we recycle or not.

The parts of styrofoam qualify as a type of plastic. Many types of styrofoam are classified as #6 thermoplastics. It might take hundreds, if not thousands, of years for this foam to completely degrade within landfills.

Foam plastics can break apart into smaller pieces, and those may be ingested by animals. This can lead to choking, digestive blockages, and ultimately starvation. These bits of foam may make their way into bodies of water. That can cause aquatic creatures to be affected by consumption as well.

Creating styrofoam needs a potentially deadly chemical called styrene. This chemical can possibly cause certain types of cancer in humans as per the CDC.

Styrofoam is made from petroleum, which is a nonrenewable resource. According to information provided by Project AWARE, plastics use about 4 percent of all petroleum and an additional 4 percent during the manufacturing process.

Facts and Statistics about Styrofoam and Its Use

In addition to being harmful to the environment, styrofoam also causes problems in humans. Continued exposure can cause irritation of the skin and eyes while also negatively impacting the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems.

The components within plastic foam can leech into foods and beverages. In a study of human tissue and breast milk samples, 100 percent contained styrene as noted in an article by Rutgers.

Here are some stats about styrofoam:

  • About 28,500 tons of styrofoam was manufactured in 2014




  • Styrofoam products use about 30 percent of landfill space



  • Styrofoam is recyclable as long as it has the recycling number 6 on it

  • More than 118 million pounds of plastic foam was recycled in 2018

Production

Small clusters of styrene atoms are polymerized to produce larger molecules of polycarbon. Next, they are expanded using steam to fill with air and become 40 times their original size. They are put in molds and then expand while cool.

Not only do styrofoam products contain harmful chemicals, but the manufacturing process is also damaging to the environment. Petroleum produces emissions including formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide, HCFC-22, and other volatile organic compounds.

Petroleum emissions negatively impact the ozone layer. Additionally, solid wastes can release toxic chemicals into the ground and waterways, including those from which we obtain the water that we drink.

Overall, it makes more sense to avoid products using styrofoam. However, styrofoam is fairly inexpensive, easy to make, and conveniently provides companies with the means to ship and contain products.

Disposal – Is Styrofoam Recyclable?

You can recycle many styrofoam products. Just check the product or the packaging for the triangle areas surrounding the number 6. If there is no resin identification symbol marked on the product, it might not be able to be recycled. However, you may want to check with manufacturing and distributing companies in your area to see if they will accept these products for reuse.

Recycling styrofoam is a very expensive process. Many recycling facilities won’t even accept plastic foam because of this reason. It costs more to recycle the product than the facilities can make from it in return.

Honestly, I would pay a small fee to a recycling facility that would accept styrofoam just to reduce the impact on the environment. If you feel the same way, you might be happy to know that there are certain facilities that will take styrofoam for recycling; you just have to find these places.

Rather than adding more to already-strained landfills, I decided to look for places where styrofoam can be recycled. Facilities are limited, but you can try these websites to see if there is a drop-off location or curbside pickup near you.

EPS Industry Alliance

On this website, you can type in your location in the EPS recycling map to see which location is nearest to where you’re at. Although there are many facilities, certain regions only have a couple or none at all.

However, this company offers a convenient program where you can mail your leftover styrofoam to them for recycling. The EPS-IA Mail Back Program provides multiple addresses by region to make shipping easier. You’ll be responsible for the shipping costs, but you can know that you’re doing your part to protect the environment.

Green Citizen

This website offers a search for recycling facilities near you. When using the search box, make sure that you choose plastics in the “search for” box, type in your location, and a list will pop up underneath. Each facility will list the type of products they accept, so be sure to look for #6 polystyrene.

Earth 911

On this website, you can search for recycling centers near you by type of material. Similar to the Green Citizen site, choose plastics then enter your zip code or address to find the closest locations.

In addition, you can call your local recycling center and see if they accept styrofoam.

Some facilities have limitations and may not accept food or beverage containers and colored styrofoam products. Check with your local facility to find out what styrofoam products are accepted. More importantly, ask if any preparation is required before bringing them in.

When recycling styrofoam, you have to make sure there is no tape or other residue. Otherwise, it may not end up getting recycled.

Summary

Styrofoam is recyclable, although it is a bit difficult. Most smaller towns do not take styrofoam as part of their recycling programs. The best way to reduce styrofoam waste is by trying to purchase products from companies that avoid using it.

If you’d like to learn more about recycling, check out our posts tagged recycling!

Leave a comment below if you think we missed anything.

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