Figure 1: Condensed Styrofoam after it has been fed through our machine
GreenCitizen is now accepting Styrofoam for recycling at our four Bay Area Eco-centers in San Francisco, Berkeley, Burlingame, and Mountain View! Come by and drop it off at any time, and bring any of those old electronics you would like to recycle too!. For Styrofoam, we charge $5 per 30 gallon bag (that’s a lot! Check figure 4 for reference). We can only accept white, unmarked Styrofoam. We cannot accept colored Styrofoam or Styrofoam that has been used for food, but only EPS (expanded polystyrene) 6. We’ll take packing peanuts for free. We can even come collect electronics and Styrofoam directly from your office. Electronics, as always, are completely free to recycle.
What We’ll do With It
How do we recycle your Styrofoam? First, some background information: Technically, Styrofoam is the trademarked insulation foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company, but the word “styrofoam” commonly refers to expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam (like how we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all brands of tissues).
Figure 2: Florian Recycling some Styrofoam
EPS is rigid foam often found in packaging and take-away containers. Environmentally, Styrofoam is one of the most frustrating materials we encounter. It takes more than 1000 years for a Styrofoam food container to decompose (for reference, it takes organic material, like a banana peels, only about 2 months) and it is often not cost effective to recycle (i.e. most recyclers lose money by doing so). Throwing it in a land-fill is obviously not environmentally conscious, and because objects in landfills are deprived of the oxygen they need to decompose, it may be far more than 1000 years before that Styrofoam packaging fully biodegrades. So, environmentally, the best course of action is to avoid buying products with Styrofoam packaging and to avoid purchasing items online that must be packaged and shipped to you. There are some potential replacements for Styrofoam in the works, but they are still a little ways off. Check out this New Yorker article to see how fungus might be the answer.
Figure 3: Ceiling Molding
But for now, accumulating some Styrofoam is almost inevitable, so what will we do with it once you recycle it with us? Well, here at GreenCitizen, we recently purchased a Styrofoam condensing machine. We feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which condenses it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume, slowing spitting it out, like frozen yogurt. This tube of condensed Styrofoam is used inside ceiling molding (see figure 3) as well as surfboards, so the Styrofoam you drop off is being reused, and not taking up space in a landfill for the next 1000 years. Come in to a GreenCitizen center and you can take an up close look at some condensed Styrofoam. Thank you so much for doing your part!
Figure 4: Roughly 60 Gallons of Styrofoam recycled at GreenCitizen