Special guest post by RecycleScene.
Have you ever tried to recycle Styrofoam? It sure can be difficult–but, it’s not impossible. Styrofoam is also known as Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS). If it is landfilled, the material never breaks down. When it’s burned, it creates a toxic ash. With the holiday season especially, there’s an avalanche of it surrounding our gifts and arriving at our doorsteps. Polystyrene’s blessings are also a curse- its light weight and durability make it such a great packaging material, but currently in the USA, foam packaging is being recycled at a rate of only about 10-12% each year.
What is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is only one name for polystyrene plastic, and is a Dow Chemical Co. trademarked form of polystyrene foam insulation. Polystyrene is made from styrene, a petroleum by-product. Styrene was first commercially produced during World War II in the production of synthetic rubber. Only about 5% of a foam package is polystyrene, the remainder is air. Part of what makes food containers, for example, so difficult to recycle is that they are generally contaminated and require cleaning before they can be processed. Unfortunately, this makes recycling less cost effective. For more information visit the Polystyrene Packaging Council.
Drop Off Styrofoam For Recycling Near You
Thankfully, Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers is a great resource for finding out where to drop off or mail your Styrofoam. Their collection system relies on EPS manufacturers to serve as recycling locations, allowing AFPR members reprocess up to 60% of the post consumer foam collected and incorporate it directly into new packaging. Expanded polystyrene has a National Mail-Back Program if drop-off sites are not available.
TIP: Make sure your Styrofoam is clean and free of any tape, labels, film or glued-on cardboard.
American Chemistry also provides a resource to search by zip code to find a company near you that will actually buy back protective polystyrene packaging from you. Click the button that says, “Less Than Truckload Quantity” to choose your state.
The Plastic Loose Fill Council promotes reuse of polystyrene, or packing peanuts. The Loose Fill Council provides a very easy way for you to search for a place to drop off your polystyrene loose fill packaging. You simply search loosefillpackaging.com by zip code for a place that will reuse your packing peanuts.
The Council’s Peanut Hotline is a national, 24-hour consumer hotline and website directory service with referrals to the nearest locations that accept packing peanuts for reuse. Call the Peanut Hotline at: 1–800-828-2214. Many local businesses gladly accept peanuts free of charge for reuse, so look into Postal Annex and Mail Boxes Etc. Try and give a little to the planet this season- don’t let your Styrofoam end up in a landfill!
Recycling Around the US
GreenFreak designs, manufactures and markets products made from recycled EPS. For example, a block of Styrofoam that has served its useful purpose of protecting electronics gets processed down to a small amount of resin in the form of pellets, which can be made into any plastic object, whether skateboards, toys or medical equipment.
A company that recycles EPS has a drop-off site that’s open to the public. Createc is a member of the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers mentioned earlier, and has created an on-site closed-loop recycling program for EPS at their Indianapolis facility.
A company located out of Framingham, ReFoamIt, started a pick-up service for local businesses and communities looking to recycle plastic foam. ReFoamIt sends the material to KWD Warehouse in Rhode Island where it undergoes a process that takes loose Styrofoam pieces and applies intense pressure to condense them before they are processed into small pellets. The pellets can be recycled into cool stuff like picture frames, toys, and car bumpers. In 3 1/2 years, ReFoamIt and KWD Warehouse have recycled 1.5 million pounds of plastic foam! ReFoamIt hosts free collection days, so see if that applies to you.
As far as chunky Styrofoam blocks, you have to really WANT to be responsible and not just throw it in the trash. It’s about being proactive. Thankfully, there is V & G Styro Recycle to help. They are located in Renton, close to Seattle, and have local drop off centers in Washington.
They also help companies in their region with their Styrofoam recycling needs, providing waste audits and pick-up and encouraging places to not throw Styrofoam in a dumpster. Very cool! There should be more place like this throughout the whole country.
Other Alternatives- Eat Your Packing Peanuts
Puffy Stuff is a supplier of 100% biodegradable packing peanuts. This reusable packaging material uses no petrochemicals- technically, it’s so environmentally safe that you can eat it. But it probably would not taste all that great. If not reused, Puffy Stuff can be hosed down in your garden as fertilizer. Pretty neat!
Blue Earth Solutions had developed the Styrosolve process–basically, they grind up products such as packing peanuts and coffee cups and mix them with solvents to remove the compressed gases. It’s a non-toxic process that produces polystyrene pellets that are then reused in packaging for various appliances and electronics. There’re also some places that sell other solvents for breaking down Styrofoam.
As you can see from when you first started asking if Styrofoam can be recycled, the answer is an emphatic YES! You should stop yourself before just chucking your foam packaging in the garbage. There are options! Don’t forget to use them…
RecycleScene believes that small actions add up to make a difference. Recycling is one of those small actions that each of us can do. While their goal is to promote the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle- and through these efforts focus on using resources wisely, it’s about rethinking too- rethinking the way everyone interacts with the world around them and the products they use. In achieving this goal, RecycleScene is always searching for new ways and cultivating creativity to reduce wastefulness…