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Is Styrofoam Recyclable or Garbage? Proper Styrofoam Disposal

Is Styrofoam Recyclable or Garbage? Proper Styrofoam Disposal

Source: Daniel Fung/Shutterstock

Styrofoam (generically known as polystyrene foam) is one of the most used packing materials on Earth. Businesses use it for everything from protecting electronics to packaging delivery and to-go food. Since many of us have so much polystyrene in our lives, you might have wondered before: Is Styrofoam recyclable or garbage?

The answer is usually garbage, but that’s not all there is to the story. There are some ways to recycle polystyrene, as well as some easy things you can do to reduce the amount of polystyrene you use. 

Is Styrofoam Recyclable…or Garbage? 

In the majority of cases, polystyrene foam is not recyclable in a curbside recycling bin. Polystyrene foam is considered a recycling contaminant, which means an item that doesn’t belong in curbside recycling but ends up there anyway. (A small handful of cities, including Los Angeles and several of its metro areas, do recycle Styrofoam in a curbside bin.)

“But wait,” you might be saying, “I see foam cartons with #6 recycling symbols on them all the time. If polystyrene really isn’t recyclable, what’s the explanation for that?” Great question! The reason is that it’s technically possible to recycle polystyrene, but not many recycling services do it because it’s hard to make a profit on. Let’s look at why that is.

Why Isn’t Polystyrene Foam Recyclable?

Most recycling centers accept things like glass and HDPE plastic because those materials are easy to clean and relatively easy to resell. Polystyrene foam, on the other hand, has three major characteristics that make it difficult to recycle in a typical curbside bin system.
  1. It’s mostly air by volume, so there’s less actual material to recycle.
  2. It’s very bulky and often cumbersome to transport. 
  3. It’s porous and absorbs food and drink easily, so it’s hard to clean.

Because of these factors, the vast majority of polystyrene will eventually end up in a landfill, much of it after only being used once. Unfortunately, once polystyrene foam enters the landfill, it will stay there for a long time. 

Just how long does trash live for when it’s made from polystyrene? We won’t know for sure for a very long time, but by some estimates, polystyrene could take as many as a million years to break down in a landfill.

Here’s the good news, however: There are some ways to recycle polystyrene foam! It’s not quite as easy as curbside bin recycling, but it can definitely be worthwhile if you have a lot of polystyrene foam to get rid of.In Need of Clean Garbage Bags? Order Them Today!waste foam tray and plastic, waste garbage foam food tray white many pile on the plastic black bag dirty, Bin, Trash, Recycle

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Recycling Polystyrene

There are some recycling centers that accept polystyrene foam for recycling. They’re often run by polystyrene manufacturers who have the specialized infrastructure necessary to recycle it and turn it into new products. 

This can be a great option if you have, for example, a full recycling bag’s worth of clean polystyrene foam to dispose of. Businesses, in particular, can often recycle the large amounts of polystyrene packaging from items they receive. However, your polystyrene recycling point will still have rules you’ll need to follow. 

These rules vary widely, but they’ll often include some combination of the following:

  • Only recycle clean polystyrene (no takeout containers), or wash off food residue before recycling
  • Remove tape, straws and other non-recyclable materials
  • Place certain types of polystyrene, like packing peanuts, in clear garbage bags to prevent pieces from blowing away

Reducing Your Polystyrene Use

Want to lower the waste footprint from your use of polystyrene foam? If you can’t recycle polystyrene, reducing your use of it is the way to go. Here are some ways to reduce the amount of polystyrene in your life:
  1. Buy eggs in cardboard cartons rather than polystyrene ones. 
  2. When you can, pick up fragile electronics at a store rather than ordering through the mail. Shippers often pack these items with foam blocks or peanuts to prevent damage during shipping.
  3. If you need disposable cups and plates, use ones made from biodegradable materials like paper, cardboard or bamboo.
  4. Purchase a quality reusable cooler rather than a disposable foam cooler for your outdoor activities.
  5. Request cardboard containers or aluminum foil for to-go food rather than a foam clamshell.
Order Recycling Bags to Hold Your RecyclablesA curly hair girl throwing empty polystyrene container into the trash.Environment issue.

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Whether you’re disposing of Styrofoam or something else, Plasticplace is here to help. We offer high quality trash bags, recycling bags, composting bags and more — all with our fast, free shipping and friendly customer service. 
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