It’s no secret that plastic is harming our planet, which is why it’s vital to find solutions to the mess we’re making.
Let’s start with Styrofoam; the plastic no one knows what to do with.
Even I had no idea what to do with it; I knew sending it to landfill sites meant it would get burnt or get buried under piles of trash.
I set out to find out how to recycle styrofoam.
If you’re feeling guilty for chucking expanded polystyrene in the bin, you should keep reading this one for you!
Is It Possible To Recycle Styrofoam?
Yes, it is possible to recycle polystyrene foam, but it’s not very easy and depends on a few factors. For instance, what type of polystyrene is it?
There’s different forms of Styrofoam, and unfortunately, some of them can’t be recycled.
You have to make sure the Styrofoam is made using EPS. Any other styles of polystyrene won’t be accepted at the recycling facility.
Why Is Styrofoam Not Recyclable?
There’s a lot of ways recycling your old foam packaging is not possible.
It could be down to it being the wrong grade of polystyrene.
It’s important to remember that not all Styrofoam can be recycled.
For example, the Styrofoam containers you get from takeaways usually can’t be recycled. The same can be said with egg cartons.
They’re made with a slightly different variety of expanded polystyrene.
You’ll also struggle when it comes to recycling colored Styrofoam. The dye contaminates the recycling process, which means recycling companies won’t take it.
And even if everything is OK with the Styrofoam, your community recycling center may not except EPF (expanded polystyrene foam). EPF is the end product. Once it’s been expanded, it can’t return to its natural form.
And the last reason is the most concerning. It’s so hard and costly to recycle Styrofoam that many recycling companies are running at a loss. This means many processing plants don’t want to take it.
So, yes, you can recycle Styrofoam, but for how long is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, inventors will find a way to recycle Styrofoam more effectively.
What Number Styrofoam Is Recyclable?
I mentioned earlier that different styles of plastic have recycling codes.
EPS runs under #6 plastic, which means it can be recycled, but it needs to go to a special recycling facility.
EPF, on the other hand, can’t be recycled, it’s an end product which can not return to its natural state.
It looks and feels very similar to EPS, but has a plastic glisten to it. You should try to avoid EPF at all costs.
How Do You Dispose Of Styrofoam?
Disposing Styrofoam doesn’t have to be as hard, you just need to know where to look.
The first thing you should do is check with your curbside recycling if you’re fortunate your recycling company might offer it. But this is very rare; you need to lucky.
If you’re one of the many unlucky people that can’t recycle their foam packaging at home, you’ll need to perform a quick google search. My personal choice of website is Earth 911; it has an outstanding database on recycling locations.
Once you’ve found the spot closest to you, it’s time to prepare the Styrofoam for recycling. You need to make sure the polystyrene is clean if you want them to accept it.
Make sure any stickers, sellotape, and dirt get removed beforehand; if they think it’s soiled, it gets sent to a landfill.
Now, what happens if you can’t recycle Styrofoam in your local area, what do you do?
You could mail it; a prepaid UPS will more than happy to take it there for you. If you need to send larger chunks, don’t be afraid to cut them down to fit it in a smaller container.
If you have a lot of packing peanuts, you need to get rid of; you can send them to local packing companies. Reusing them is less harmful to the environment.
Is Styrofoam Worse Than Plastic?
They have a lot of similarities, neither of them biodegrade, and you might be wondering, is styrofoam biodegradable?
Well, no to decompose, both of them take around 500 years before they start breaking down. And this doesn’t really hold up to biodegradabilities standards.
And the similarities don’t stop there. Both forms are incredibly harmful to the environment.
Styrofoam and plastic contain toxic chemicals that can leach into your food and water. All this plastic ends up damaging our local communities.
If either of them ends up at an incinerator unit, then it causes further damage; when burnt harmful toxins are released:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Hydrochloric acid
- Carbon monoxide
But, if I had to choose one, it would be Styrofoam, for a couple of reasons.
The first one is because of the amount of space it takes up.
Landfills are struggling to keep up with the amount of trash we generate, without adding blocks of foam packing into it.
And because it doesn’t degrade, these blocks are likely to be around forever.
My second reason is because of how difficult it is to recycle. There are plenty of drop off locations, but if they can find a reason not to recycle it, they probably will.
The Styrofoam recycling companies are running at a loss, so there’s no knowing how much longer we’ll be able to recycle it.
Are There Any Styrofoam Alternatives?
By now, you might be feeling guilty about the use of Styrofoam; It’s been a critical packing material for so long now one knows what to do without it.
Which is why I want to share a few alternatives you have at your disposal:
Biodegradable Packing Peanuts
Styrofoam packing peanuts aren’t just made from traditional plastic anymore. Scientists are always looking to create a more effective alternative.
Biodegradable peanuts are usually entirely made with cornstarch, which means under the right conditions, they will biodegrade.
Mushroom material is an eco-friendly alternative. The fungus can multiply quickly and get molded to the required shape.
This packing material avoids the use of any harmful chemicals while biodegrading at a rapid rate. It can be home composted, leaving a nutrient-rich organic matter.
Biodegradable Air Pouch
Air pouches have around for a while, but recently manufacturers have created a biodegradable version.
It’s made with a special grade plastic that can biodegrade in approximately five years. Although five years is a long time, it’s so much better than Styrofoam.
Using shredded paper is a great way to get rid of any old newspapers, magazines, or scrap paper. Not only is it compostable, but it can be recycled.
If you haven’t got paper to use up, packing companies will sell it. Make sure the paper comes from recycled materials; we don’t need more virgin trees being cut down.
Corrugated wrap is made from cardboard, which means it’s biodegradable. It also offers excellent shock absorbing qualities, ensuring your items stay safe in the containers.
Again make sure it comes from recycled materials, not virgin wood. And, if possible, reuse it before recycling.
Seaweed packing is usually used to wrap food at the local store (well, some stores). But you could also use it to fill out space in the containers.
It might be slightly more costly, but it’s fully compostable and leaves no harmful traces. It’s a very versatile food-safe packing. I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of it soon.
Not many people consider this option, but old organic fabrics can safely store your items.
The best thing is they biodegrade or can be recycled/repurposed. If they get thrown out, it will take around 100 days to biodegrade in the right conditions.
What Can I Use Old Styrofoam For?
What do you do if you can’t find any recycling programs, but you don’t want to chuck it in the trash?
Well, there are a few things you could use it for:
You could reuse the cups for drinking at home. If you wash them out, they can be reused multiple times.
Plus, it gives some excellent thermal protection.
I’ve also heard of people using them to store small items like change, pens, and other loose objects. You can even decorate them to make them look prettier.
One thing I’ve seen Styrofoam cups being turned into, one more impressive than the other. I’ve seen old cups get turned into lampshades, which looked pretty good.
This foam packaging can be reused for a variety of things, but first and for most, it should just be used for packing again.
You can drop them at a local packing company. It helps the store to reduce costs and gets rid of your waste.
You could also repurpose them for various arts and crafts jobs; why not use them as stuffing for pillows or a bean bag.
It’s not an activity to do with kids and gives them something to remember for years to come.
Here’s a strange idea; why not use them as ice cubes? Now, I’m not suggesting you put them directly into your drink; that would be a bad idea. But you can use them for coolers, the foam lasts a lot longer than you think and can be reused.
Here’s my last idea:
Plant pot fillers, I wouldn’t use it for any plants I’m going to eat from, but anything else would be excellent. Big plant pots require a lot of soil, using the foam to bulk it out will help reduce the weight and the amount of dirt you use.
The Styrofoam food containers you get from the local takeaway are a bit of a nightmare. Most of the time, you can’t recycle them.
So, what can you do with them?
You could use them as a seed starter; the water-resistant and insulation qualities give your seeds a great start. Not only that, but it saves you a few bucks buying the trays.
You could choose to donate them to schools to use for arts and crafts or use them with your children. They can cut, paint, and glue pieces of Styrofoam to create something fantastic.
By now, you should know how to recycle polystyrene, and what you can reuse it for. But there are a few things you should remember.
Try and find local recycling programs that are willing to accept Styrofoam. Before you recycle it, make sure it’s clean and free of stickers.
If you can’t find a recycling program, you could drop it off/ send it to local packing companies. UPS also allows you to drop off packing peanuts.
If you can’t recycle it, try to reuse it, but the best option is not to use it all. By taking action and actively avoiding polystyrene products, we can stop harming the environment. And I think we can all accept that needs to happen.
If you have any questions, drop it in the comment box below. And don’t forget to share the article with your friends, the more people that make small changes, the bigger the results.
Dis you like this article? Why not check out how to recycle lightbulbs.