Top Ten Styrofoam Recycling Tips
Hope your week is going well.
I had one of my follower ask a great question via our Facebook Page:
Any advice on how I can recycle Styrofoam (our trash company doesn't accept it)? Also, I have some items left from our bathroom remodel that I listed on Freecycle for a while and I can't find any takers. I would like to donate if there's a place that would like this sort of stuff.
I did a little research, because we are blessed with an all-encompassing recycle program.
Here are the top ten styrofoam recycling tips found on Pacebutler.com:
Expanded polystyrene foam, commonly referred to as styrofoam, is one of the most common materials used in a wide variety of applications – from appliances packaging to take-out food containers to building insulation. Styrofoam recycling is slowly expanding in the US, but at present there is still so much of this material that ends up in our landfills. It is estimated that 30% of the total solid waste volume dumped in landfills is polystyrene.
The term styrofoam is actually a registered trade mark of Dow Chemical Company and refers to a polystyrene insulation product that the company manufactures in sheets for construction projects. The bricks and pellets that we often see in appliance packaging and the thin containers used in the food industry are more accurately known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging. (Please see plastic recycling symbol no.6).
Why is styrofoam recycling important?
Polystyrene or styrofoam is manufactured from petroleum. As such, it is highly flammable and may not be safe to use as improvised wall insulation. It is illegal to burn styrofoam because this would release harmful chemicals to the atmosphere, notably benzene, a known human carcinogen used in the manufacturing process of polystyrene.
It is bulky and hard to recycle, and takes an incredible amount of time to break down. You probably heard a chemistry teacher tell your high school class that polystyrene foam will be around much longer than the Statue of Liberty. The use of polystyrene for food packaging is now completely banned in some US cities. Environmentalists and oceanographers also note that EPS is one of the main ocean pollutants, being found in abundance in what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the northern Pacific Ocean that’s said to contain 3.3 million pieces of plastic garbage per square kilometer.
Styrofoam recycling is a cause for concern here in the US because there are relatively few cities that have facilities to recycle this material and because of contamination issues in the EPS used in the food industry. This last one is a particularly costly issue – recylers have to spend more resources on personnel and work hours just to clean up the used food packaging material they collect before these can be recycled. There are publicized advances in technology recently that will allow recyclers to accept used food packaging, but these innovations are available only to the big cities, at present.
Watch: Styrofoam Recycling Machine
If you’re like me and just need to know what to do or where to send your packaging for styrofoam recycling, here are some suggestions:
I’m sure there were times when you were packing something for shipping and there just wasn’t any packaging or padding material in the house. To reduce volume and save on storage space, you might want to cut the bricks into smaller pieces – it’s faster to do this with a heated knife or wire – and store the material in a plastic bag for future use.
Use it as insulation
As mentioned above, EPS is highly flammable so it is unsafe to use this as makeshift insulation in residential buildings. But they’re excellent for insulation of outbuildings like a dog house, tool shed, woodworking shop or pumping house within your property.
Styrofoam recycling with oranges
Styrofoam dissolves to 1/20th of its original volume when sprayed with an organic citrus peel extract called limonene, and the resulting gooey substance can be used as super glue. Limonene is found in some products now available in the market. On an industrial scale, Sony Corporation of Japan is now starting to use this environment-friendly process in styrofoam recycling. Limonene can be used repeatedly for styrofoam recycling, while polystyrene is processed to produce industrial grade foams and pellets for reuse. See the explanation of this process here.
Just looking for a facility nearby to drop off the bulky material? Earth 911.comprovides a great service to help you locate a styrofoam recycling facility in your area. It’s in a search bar right at the top of their home page – just type in polystyrene together with your zip or city and you will be directed to nearby recycling facilities.
Sowing green with styrofoam
If you live in a farming area, your local planter might want to take in polystyrene bricks. They use the material for plant beds and drainage. Or you can always start a bit of backyard or roof deck gardening yourself using styrofoam as improvised plant boxes.
Fishing with styrofoam
If you’re lucky enough to live near a fishing village or community, they just might have a need for your bulky EPS. These are used as floaters, buoys, fishing fly holders, markers, underwater net trap lifters, and parts for artificial reefs.
Are you into model trains? EPS is an excellent material for creating realistic mini-structures like buildings, bridges, mountains, and trees that would add more pleasure to the model train experience. If you’re not into creating miniature train tracks snaking along styrofoam villages and mountains, you might want to take your bulky packaging to a local craft shop – it might just end up as a prize-winning entry to an art competition somewhere.
Check with your local UPS store for styrofoam recycling. Many of these will now accept styrofoam packing peanuts for reuse. A few will take in both peanuts and bricks for reuse in packaging.
Mail it to a recycler
Cut the bricks into smaller pieces and ship your material to the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers for styrofoam recycling. As explained in their website, shipping the bulky EPS material to them is far more economical and environment-friendly compared to hauling the material somewhere.
Styrofoam for cash
You might want to consider selling your EPS, if you have a big pile of it in your home or office. Find a buyer located within your state at the American Chemistry Council. They host the Recycled Plastic Markets Database, and chances are you’ll find a buyer who also owns a styrofoam recycling facility
If you have other great ideas, please share in the comments!