Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Styrofoam Recycling in San Francisco
Updated August 2018
Can you recycle Styrofoam? Yes and you should! In fact, GreenCitizen conveniently offers Styrofoam recycling for San Francisco Bay Area residents and businesses at our Burlingame EcoCenter.
With coffee cups, packing peanuts, building insulation, and takeout boxes, you may be wondering if Styrofoam is as bad as they say. Unfortunately, this lightweight material packs a heavy punch against the environment.
Why Styrofoam is Bad
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified styrene, the material that makes up Styrofoam, as a possible human carcinogen.
- It takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose. Every day, about 1369 tons of it ends up in a landfill.
- When heated, Styrofoam releases toxic chemical which can hurt our health. In other words, reheating your restaurant leftovers in a microwave isn’t a good idea!
- Sunlight exposure causes Styrofoam to create air pollutants that harm landfills and the ozone layer.
- Styrofoam breaks into smaller pieces, which can become a choking hazard for scavenging animals in landfills.
Now that you know a little more about the detrimental effects of Styrofoam, we’re sure you want to recycle as much as you can. Keep in mind that we can only recycle Styrofoam that is white, clean, and unmarked, called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). Luckily, this foam is 100% recyclable.
What is EPS Foam?
Technically, Styrofoam is the trademarked insulation foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company, but the word “styrofoam” usually refers to expanded polystyrene foam (like how we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all brands of tissues).
EPS is a rigid foam often found in packaging and take-away containers. It’s one of the most frustrating materials we encounter. It takes more than 500 years for a Styrofoam food container to decompose and is often not cost effective, meaning recyclers lose money. So, the best course of action is to avoid buying products with EPS packaging, which includes online purchases. Fortunately, some companies now offer biodegradable solutions to help lessen Styrofoam’s toxic impact.
How Does Styrofoam Recycling Work?
For now, accumulating some Styrofoam is almost inevitable, so we all have to do our parts and recycle what we can. Bring your EPS foam to GreenCitizen, where we have a handy Styrofoam condensing machine (see figure 2). We feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which condenses it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume. It then slowly spits it out, like frozen yogurt. This tube of condensed foam helps make items like surfboards, cameras, jewelry cases, coat hangers, and ceiling molding (see figure 3). The Styrofoam you drop off is being reused and not taking up space in a landfill for the next five centuries. Visit our Burlingame EcoCenter and you can take a look at some condensed Styrofoam!
Come by and drop off your EPS foam at any time. We charge $5 per 30 gallon bag. That’s a lot of Styrofoam! (see figure 4). We’ll also take your old electronics for recycling. We can even pick up your electronics and Styrofoam right from your office building!
Thank you so much for doing your part. GreenCitizen is proud to provide you with hassle-free Styrofoam recycling!