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The Packaging Plague: Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

can you recycle styrofoam

“Can you recycle styrofoam?” It’s a question that has been asked for years. With the pandemic forcing us to get take-out, order packages online, and even use styrofoam cups in some cases… that question is even more common. What should you do with the styrofoam in your home and workplace? Here are a few options:

Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a trademarked name for a specific variation of expanded polystyrene packaging (EPS) used in building insulation. The foam polystyrene you’re likely trying to recycle is used in packaging peanuts, egg cartons, take-out containers, etc.

is styrofoam recyclable

Short answer: Styrofoam is NOT recyclable and shouldn’t be placed in outdoor or commercial recycling bins.

Long answer: Styrofoam can technically be recycled, it’s just highly inefficient to do so. Why is that the case? Think about how much space it takes up in commercial trash cans. EPS is 90% air and typically lightweight and bulky. Would you want that styrofoam taking up space in commercial recycling bins instead of more compact recyclables like aluminum cans? Definitely not! However, some recycling programs can be adjusted to incorporate styrofoam waste:

What Should I Do With Styrofoam?

There are some locations where styrofoam can be recycled, to find a foam recycling plant near you CLICK HERE. Alternatively, some shipping stores will also take back packing-peanuts for reuse as well. Local governments may also have drop-off locations specifically for styrofoam packaging. If you are certain styrofoam can be accepted in outdoor recycling bins where you live, research beforehand if your local curbside recycling programs have this exception.

what to do with styrofoam

Why Is Styrofoam Difficult To Recycle?

Going back to the point about styrofoam taking up lots of space in commercial recycling bins, EPS is hard to recycle in a cost-effective manner. The collection of styrofoam requires a system that can compress it into ultra-dense form-factors to warrant the expenses related to transporting such a lightweight product. Then it has to be taken to a special facility that can shred styrofoam and repurpose it for alternative use. After processing it’s no longer expandable (because it has been compacted) and often gets turned into hard plastic for use in:

  • Picture frames
  • Park benches
  • Crown moldings
  • Etc.

So essentially, styrofoam never gets truly “recycled” it just gets repurposed. Commercial recycling companies are working on ways to incorporate “chemical recycling” to solve the styrofoam problem by breaking it back down into polystyrene but this process is still in experimental stages.

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Looking for more recycling tips and tricks? Check out these other blogs:

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CleanRiver Recycling provides a variety of innovative, flexible, and customizable recycling solutions. To determine the right solution to meet your needs, use the CleanRiver product selector.

If you have additional questions that weren’t answered in this blog post please call us at 1-866-479-4038 or email solutions@cleanriver.com.

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