What to do with Styrofoam: Eco-friendly Repurposing and Recycling Techniques

Last updated on April 8, 2024

Understanding how to properly recycle styrofoam may seem convoluted, but this article will clear confusion by providing a detailed explanation on practical ways to both repurpose and recycle this material.

Key takeaways:

  • Find a Foam Recycling Facility: Use locators or contact local waste management authorities.
  • Reuse as Packing Material: Save for shipping or offer to others.
  • Repurpose for DIY Home Decor: Make picture frames, decorative moulding, planters, or seasonal crafts.
  • Utilize as Insulation: Use in attics, container gardening, seasonal protection, or for garage doors.
  • Repurpose Coolers for Composting: Drill holes, layer greens and browns, regularly maintain, and harvest compost.
1of 6

Find a Foam Recycling Facility

Locating a facility that accepts Styrofoam, officially known as expanded polystyrene (EPS), is the first step towards responsible disposal. Due to its composition, not all recycling centers are equipped to process EPS. To find a suitable site:

1. Visit Earth911.com or FoamFacts.com and use their recycling center locators, inputting your ZIP code to discover nearby options.

2. Reach out to your local waste management authority or municipal recycling program for guidance on EPS recycling in your community.

3. Inquire at local shipping stores or business centers, as they sometimes collect EPS for reuse in packaging and may offer recycling services.

4. Check if appliance stores or electronics retailers have take-back programs, as they often receive goods shipped with EPS and might have a recycling process in place.

Remember, some facilities may request that you rinse and clean the material, removing any labels or adhesives, to ensure it is recyclable. Keep in mind that drop-off times and the types of EPS accepted (e.g., food containers vs. packing foam) may vary, so it is best to confirm details before making the trip.

2of 6

Reuse As Packing Material

Styrofoam’s lightweight and cushioning properties make it ideal for protecting items during shipping.

Instead of discarding it, consider keeping a stash for personal needs, like sending gifts to loved ones or moving delicate belongings.

Not only does this practice prevent waste, but it also saves money on purchasing new packing materials.

For small businesses, this can be both an eco-friendly and cost-effective solution.

Additionally, local online forums or community bulletin boards often have postings from individuals seeking packing materials for their own moves, allowing Styrofoam to enjoy a second life while supporting a neighbor’s efforts to reduce waste.

3of 6

Repurpose for DIY Home Decor

Styrofoam can be a surprisingly versatile material when it comes to crafting and home decoration projects. Its lightweight nature and ease of manipulation make it an ideal choice for various creative undertakings:

  • Custom Picture Frames: Encase cherished memories in homemade frames from large sheets of styrofoam cut to any size and then painted or covered with fabric to match your decor.
  • Decorative Moulding: Create cost-effective, faux crown moulding or baseboards. Shape strips of styrofoam into your desired profile, apply a coat of paint, and attach them to your walls for an instant aesthetic lift.
  • Planters: Carve out blocks of styrofoam into shapes of pots or planters. With a layer of cement or textured paint, these can make unique and lightweight additions to any indoor or outdoor space.
  • Seasonal Crafts: From Halloween tombstones to Christmas village displays, styrofoam can be sculpted and painted to enhance your seasonal decor.

Remember to seal your creations with an appropriate paint or sealer to protect against moisture and wear, ensuring your styrofoam decor lasts. Always be mindful of flammability and code regulations, specifically if your project is intended for indoor use.

4of 6

Utilize As Insulation

Styrofoam’s insulating properties don’t just disappear once a product reaches the end of its initial life cycle. This material, known scientifically as expanded polystyrene (EPS), boasts a high R-value—a measure of thermal resistance—making it an effective insulator. Here’s how to repurpose this resource effectively:

  • Attics and Basements: Tuck sheets of EPS between framing in unfinished spaces to add an extra layer against heat loss.
  • Container Gardening: Place pieces in the bottoms of large planters to improve drainage and insulate sensitive roots from extreme temperatures.
  • Seasonal Protection: Use it to wrap around outdoor water spigots or as covers for frost-sensitive garden plants.
  • Garage Doors: Cut-to-size panels can be placed in garage door recesses to help regulate the temperature inside.
  • Arts and Crafts: Smaller scraps can be used to insulate homemade cozy covers for teapots or ice cream cozies, keeping contents at the desired temperature longer.

These applications ensure that Styrofoam’s high energy absorption and moisture resistance characteristics provide both environmental and economic benefits long beyond its original packaging purpose.

5of 6

Repurpose Coolers for Composting

Transforming a styrofoam cooler into a composter is a creative way to give it a second life. These lightweight materials provide excellent insulation, which can help maintain the warm environment necessary for composting. Here’s how to put this idea into action:

1. Drill Holes: Begin by drilling holes throughout the cooler, including the lid. This step ensures proper ventilation and drainage, which are key for composting.

2. Select a Spot: Place your new styrofoam composter in a convenient location where it won’t be disturbed regularly, like a corner of your yard or balcony.

3. Layer Greens and Browns: Alternate layers of ‘green’ kitchen waste, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, with ‘brown’ yard waste, like leaves and twigs. This balance helps with the decomposition process.

4. Regular Maintenance: Stir the compost occasionally to aerate it, speeding up the composting process, and add a bit of water if it’s too dry.

5. Monitor and Harvest: When the material at the bottom of the cooler is dark and rich, it’s ready to be harvested and used in your garden.

By repurposing a cooler in this way, you’re not only recycling styrofoam but also enriching the earth and reducing waste. It’s a neat, eco-friendly loop that benefits both the environment and your garden.

6of 6


How do I get rid of a lot of Styrofoam?

To dispose of large amounts of Styrofoam, you can find nearby drop-off sites using Earth911.com or send it to centers through mail, with the help of the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers’ (AFPR) listed areas.

How can I repurpose Styrofoam?

Styrofoam can be repurposed in multiple ways such as turning it into a paint palette, using clean boxes and coolers as shelters for feral cats, as protection for outdoor plants during winter, or as a kickboard or floating tray for swimming.

How do I dispose of Styrofoam in Seattle?

In Seattle, Styrofoam in the form of foam blocks and packing peanuts should be disposed of as garbage at King County transfer stations, given that they are bagged or treated appropriately to avoid littering or nuisance during unloading, transport, and disposal.

What is the impact of Styrofoam on the environment?

Styrofoam, because of its non-biodegradable nature and its inability to be easily recycled, contributes significantly to environmental pollution, endangering wildlife and exacerbating landfill problems.

Are there any effective methods for Styrofoam recycling at home?

Yes, upcycling projects, compacting, local recycling centers, and some mail-in programs can aid in efficient Styrofoam recycling at home.

What are some innovative solutions for Styrofoam waste reduction worldwide?

Innovative solutions for Styrofoam waste reduction worldwide include using mealworms to biodegrade it, recycling it into plastic products, building insulation and home decorative items, and replacing it with eco-friendly alternatives like mushroom packaging, bioplastic, and paper.

Related reading:

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Table of Contents