Styrofoam Recycling / What is Styrofoam?
When we say Styrofoam we are referring to that ubiquitous substance commonly used for packing sensitive electronics and other breakable items when they are shipped. The term ‘Styrofoam’ is actually a trademark for a kind of thermal insulation made from polystyrene. The Dow Chemical Corporation owns this trademark.
What we commonly call Styrofoam is actually extruded polystyrene foam.
-Photo to the left is by Will Parson.-
Polystyrene foam can be made in three configurations. Extruded polystyrene, expanded polystyrene foam, and extruded polystyrene foam.
Extruded polystyrene can be used as an ingredient in the manufacture of explosives.
In addition to being highly buoyant Styrofoam also has strong insulating properties. This is the reason for its being used as life rafts and as the buoyant element in most commercial life preservers.
The cheap cost of producing this material and the other characteristics Styrofoam is widely used as a packing material for electronics and other breakable items when these are being shipped.
According the EPA each year Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups.
-Photo to the left is by Calonda.-
Even 500 years from now, the foam coffee cup you used this morning will be sitting in a landfill, because the materials and chemicals that make up Styrofoam or polystyrene foam take an incredible amount of time to break down in the environment.
It may also be ingested by animals and eventually block their digestive tracts ultimately causing their deaths by starvation.
The manufacturing process of Styrofoam also consumes petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource and benzene, which is known to be carcinogenic to humans.
Local recycling stations usually do not accept Styrofoam because it is difficult to store because of its bulk. Recycling helps to keep Styrofoam out of the waste stream and therefore out of the landfill where it can sit for more than a hundred years.
When you recycle a certain amount of polystyrene that is a certain amount that doesn’t have to be manufactured. The recycling of polystyrene is not for cost benefits its for the benefit of our environment. The skinny of it is we should all be avoiding products that can last forever in our landfills.
Styrofoam Recycling / What can we do to recycle Styrofoam?
For consumers the most convenient method is curbside recycling. Curbside recycling can be private or government initiated and this is the best option for consumers who want to recycle. However the difficulty is most curbside recycling programs don’t accept extruded polystyrene foam or EPS as it is also called.
There are several other options that the consumer can take advantage of. Find out from Earth911.com where the nearest drop off sites are but call beforehand to find out if they accept EPS and in what configuration. If they accept EPS make sure it’s clean because any kind of contamination can ruin the recycling process.
Another little known solution is spraying your Styrofoam with an organic citrus peel extract called limonene. This actually shrinks your pile of Styrofoam to about 1/20th of of its original size!
The resulting gooey substance can be used as super glue. Limonene is found in some products now available in the market. Want to stock some in your cupboard? Go to GreenTerpene.
Styrofoam Recycling / Research Your Options
For consumers in some countries mail back is another option. In the absence of any drop off points in your vicinity there are programs instituted by the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers who accept polystyrene by mail. The only expenses are the box some effort in packing and the postage.
For more information on recycling styrofoam near you just input the phrase, recycling styrofoam ‘your area’ in your search engine search bar. Or go to earth911.com.
For more information on the importance of recycling follow these links: