You Asked, We Answered: Is Styrofoam Recyclable?
It’s estimated that Styrofoam can take up to 30% of the space in US landfills, with Americans alone throwing away 25 billion foam cups every year.
Yes, 25 billion foam cups.
From food containers to cups and packaging, this material is omnipresent in our lives, yet it can be dangerous for both our health and the environment.
Also, recycling Styrofoam is hard because it’s a #6 plastic, which is known to be one of the hardest plastics to recycle.
But the question remains: can Styrofoam be recycled?
Can You Recycle Styrofoam?
Yes, you can recycle Styrofoam, and you can read on to find out how and where you can do so.
However, bear in mind that recycling this material can be difficult.
One reason is that it biodegrades slowly and shows significant resistance to photolysis, or decomposition by the action of light.  It can take up to 500 years for it to decompose naturally due to that.
So what you can do is to try giving it to some retailers and couriers (such as UPS) who accept packing peanuts or packing popcorn that they can reuse for shipping items.
Or, whenever possible, you should consider taking reusable food containers to restaurants or avoiding polystyrene packing materials instead.
Another reason why it’s difficult to recycle is because it’s a number 6 plastic, which means that it requires specialized equipment to be broken down successfully.
Some local governments have curbside recycling programs that have this equipment, but a lot of them don’t.
You can also bring it to recycling centers. However, while it is technically 100% recyclable, most recycling centers don’t want to take it because it’s too bulky (i.e. not cost-effective).
GreenCitizen, however, accepts Styrofoam for recycling because we have our own condensing machine that can reduce it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume.
What Is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is technically the trademarked closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) produced by the Dow Chemical Company and introduced to the US market in 1954.
Commonly called “Blue Board,” it’s usually used as insulation for walls, roofs, and foundations.
However, the word “Styrofoam” also informally refers to various polystyrene foam products (like how we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all brands of tissues).
The white, rigid, crunchy stuff we use for our craft projects? We’ve become so used to calling it Styrofoam, but it’s actually expanded polystyrene foam or EPS.
This is the one that’s commonly found in takeaway food containers, coffee cups, and shipping materials.
Is Styrofoam Bad For The Environment?
Yes, Styrofoam is bad for the environment. Here’s why.
How To Recycle Styrofoam
First, gather up your old but white, clean, and unmarked Styrofoam and come down to GreenCitizen’s Burlingame EcoCenter where we have a handy condensing machine.
If you don’t have time to drop it off, you can also try our pick up service.
For $5 per 30-gallon bag, the process goes like this:
We’ll feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which reduces them to roughly 1/90th of their original volume and spits them out like frozen yogurt.
We can then use the condensed polystyrene foam to make insulation sheets, construction materials, or ceiling molding.
They can also be transformed into surfboards, cameras, jewelry cases, coat hangers, public benches, pots, toys, or picture frames. The possibilities are endless.
As you can see, it’s so much better to repurpose it into something useful instead of letting it sit around as waste.
[EPS] doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks down, and as it breaks down it just becomes edible to more things and it just leads further down the food chain.
Nathan Murphy, State Director for Environment Michigan
Where To Recycle Styrofoam
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay area, GreenCitizen is open for drop off recycling from Monday-Saturday, 10am until 6pm.
We can also organize pickup recycling services if you’re a business with a large amount of it to recycle.
Keep in mind that we can only recycle Styrofoam that is white, clean, and unmarked.
If you’re not in the Bay Area, then the Earth911 Directory should help you find your nearest recycling center that accepts Styrofoam.
We’ve become so used to calling it Styrofoam, but it’s actually expanded polystyrene foam or EPS.
Yes, you can put Styrofoam in the recycling bin in some areas. However, there are many local governments who do not accept it in their curbside recycling programs.
You can dispose of large Styrofoam at a dedicated recycling center like GreenCitizen where we compress it down to 1/90th of its original size.
You can recycle Styrofoam at home if there is a local curbside recycling scheme available in your area. If there’s none, then you may not be able to recycle it at home and you'll need to drop it off at a specialized center (or have it picked up at your home by that center).
You can help turn old Styrofoam into many everyday items including surfboards, ceiling molding, and coat hangers if you recycle it at a dedicated center.
You can destroy Styrofoam by dissolving it with acetone, but be warned that it’s dangerous from a health and environmental standpoint because doing so can release toxic carcinogens into the air.
Yes, Styrofoam egg cartons can be recycled if you take them to a specialized recycling center like GreenCitizen. In some cases, you can put them in a recycling bin but only if your local government has a curbside recycling program.
No, vinegar will not dissolve Styrofoam because vinegar is not hot nor concentrated enough.
Acetone will dissolve Styrofoam, though it’s still not ideal for the environment and it becomes difficult if you’ve got a lot to dispose of.
So, is Styrofoam recyclable?
Yes, Styrofoam is recyclable, but the market for it is very small and niche that most curbside programs don’t often offer services for it.
However, as much as Styrofoam recycling is difficult, GreenCitizen’s services make it as cheap and convenient as possible.
If you don’t want to pollute the Earth for 500 years or more, it will do good for you to reuse or recycle your Styrofoam today.
James Kao is the founder/CEO of GreenCitizen, which provides products and services that help make every day Earth Day. He’s passionate about data and sustainability, with a deep background in launching, funding, and managing successful tech companies. James enjoys spending quality time with his family, hiking, traveling, watching well-made documentaries, and eating good healthy food. read more »