Can Styrofoam Be Recycled: Simple Steps to Environment Friendly Disposal

Last updated on April 3, 2024

Yes, Styrofoam can be recycled, however, it requires specific recycling facilities that can handle polystyrene products.

Key takeaways:

  • Styrofoam can be recycled with the help of specialized facilities.
  • Styrofoam is not typically accepted in curbside recycling programs.
  • Styrofoam recycling requires volume reduction through compression or densification.
  • Drop-off sites and mail-back programs are available for Styrofoam recycling.
  • Recycling Styrofoam conserves resources, reduces waste, and creates jobs.
1of 6

“EPS” – What Is It?

Often referred to by its brand name, Styrofoam, EPS is short for Expanded Polystyrene, a lightweight, rigid, plastic foam insulation material produced from solid beads of polystyrene.

Expansion is achieved by virtue of pentane, a blowing agent that causes the polystyrene to expand and mold into the desired shape and size.

The durability, thermal efficiency, and moisture resistance of EPS make it a popular choice in food packaging, protective packaging for electronics, and as insulation for buildings.

It’s recognized for its shock-absorbing properties, providing safety in transit for a wide array of goods.

2of 6

Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

Styrofoam, known scientifically as expanded polystyrene (EPS), presents unique challenges in recycling. Contrary to common belief, it can be recycled, but not in your typical curbside recycling program due to its lightweight nature and contamination issues.

Specialized recycling programs exist that accept EPS, generally requiring the foam to be clean and free of labels, tape, or food residue.

Central to the EPS recycling process is the concept of volume reduction. Due to its 95% air content, Styrofoam products must be compressed to make their recycling economically viable. Professional recycling facilities utilize densifiers to compact the material, effectively reducing its size and making it easier to transport.

Consumers can participate in this eco-friendly endeavor by locating drop-off sites for foam products or utilizing mail-back programs where they exist. Retailers and manufacturers may also provide take-back programs for products like electronics packaging or foam shipping coolers. As awareness grows, opportunities for recycling this material are slowly expanding, offering a more sustainable end-of-life option for Styrofoam products.

3of 6

Is Styrofoam Bad for the Environment?

Styrofoam’s environmental friendliness, or lack thereof, has been a subject of concern for decades. Composed of polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic, it’s not biodegradable, meaning it remains in the environment for hundreds of years, contributing to landfill crowding.

When left to degrade, it breaks down into smaller particles, but never fully decomposes, posing a significant threat to wildlife who mistake these particles for food.

Moreover, the manufacturing process releases hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases with the potential to affect climate change.

During use, styrene, which is a component of polystyrene, may leach into food and drinks, leading to potential health risks with prolonged exposure.

When considering recycling and disposal, the lightweight nature of Styrofoam poses an additional environmental hazard.

It easily becomes windblown litter, finding its way into oceans and waterways, where it becomes part of the growing problem of marine debris that can harm aquatic life.

Therefore, the environmental implications of using and disposing of Styrofoam cannot be overlooked, spurring discussions about the importance of alternatives and the need for improved recycling technologies.

4of 6

Polystyrene Foam Recycling Methods

Polystyrene foam, more commonly known by its brand name Styrofoam, presents unique challenges in recycling. However, innovative methods have been developed to manage this material. Mechanical Recycling is one of the primary methods, which involves physically breaking down the material into smaller pieces that can be remolded for new uses. This process often starts with compaction to reduce the foam’s size and make transportation more efficient.

Chemical Recycling is another approach, where the polystyrene is depolymerized back into its monomer, styrene, which can then be repolymerized to create new polystyrene products. This method effectively closes the loop, allowing polystyrene to be reused indefinitely.

For both methods, there’s a critical need for clean and uncontaminated materials, which means recycling facilities that accept polystyrene foam often require it to be rinsed and free of any food debris or other contaminants. In some regions, drop-off recycling programs have been established specifically for polystyrene foam, acknowledging that curbside programs may not accept this material. While not as widespread as recycling programs for materials like paper or certain plastics, these dedicated efforts demonstrate a growing capacity to manage polystyrene foam waste responsibly.

5of 6

Insider’s Takeaway – The Impact of Recycling Styrofoam

When successfully recycled, Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene (EPS), can actually prove beneficial. Here’s an insider perspective on its impact:

  • Conservation of Resources: Recycling EPS reduces the need to produce new materials. It conserves oil – a non-renewable resource – as Styrofoam is a petroleum-based product. This conservation leads to energy savings and a reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Waste Reduction: EPS is lightweight but voluminous, taking up significant space in landfills. By recycling, this space can be preserved for non-recyclable waste, extending the lifespan of landfills.
  • Toxicity Prevention: When left in landfills, Styrofoam can leach harmful chemicals into the environment. Recycling helps to prevent this contamination.
  • Economic Benefits: The recycling industry creates jobs. As EPS recycling becomes more prevalent, opportunities in collection, processing, and reusing recycled material contribute to the economy.
  • Market for Recycled Products: Recycled EPS can be turned into various products such as insulation material, park benches, and picture frames. There’s a growing market for products made from recycled materials, indicating a positive loop of supply and demand.

Recycling Styrofoam has its challenges, but understanding its potential benefits clarifies the importance and impact of responsible and efficient recycling practices.

6of 6


Can you recycle Styrofoam in Michigan?

Despite most curbside recycling programs in Michigan not accepting Styrofoam, it can still be recycled, albeit with some municipalities and private companies.

Why Styrofoam is not recycled?

Styrofoam, although technically recyclable, is often not recycled due to its lightweight and bulky structure, porous nature making it difficult to clean, and the high cost of recycling it efficiently as compared to materials like glass or cardboard.

Can Styrofoam be recycled Austin?

Yes, Styrofoam, excluding packing peanuts, can be recycled in Austin.

How is Styrofoam recycling performed on a large scale?

Styrofoam recycling on a large scale involves collecting and compacting the material, dissolving it in a solvent to reduce its size, and then processing it into a new, reusable product.

What alternatives exist if Styrofoam recycling is not available in your area?

If Styrofoam recycling is not available in your area, alternatives include reusing Styrofoam products, repurposing them for home use, giving them to shipping stores, or finding facilities that accept Mail-Back programs.

What is the impact of Styrofoam in landfills and how does recycling help?

Styrofoam in landfills is harmful due to its non-biodegradable nature, leading to environmental pollution, while recycling can reduce landfill space, conserve resources, and decrease potential toxic emissions.

Related reading:

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Table of Contents