Styrofoam surrounds us: it makes up our throwaway cups and plates, packing materials, egg cartons, crafts, insulation, portable freezers… the list continues on into apparent infinite. Considering how much material we consume, it becomes logical to address the question: is styrofoam recyclable? In other words, is this material that we use Styrofoam Recyclable the day of our lives able to be reused? If not, what alternatives should we be utilizing to decrease waste and humanity’s environmental footprint?
To answer all these questions, we need to start with a deep dive into styrofoam:
- What it is.
- What are the different types are?
- What recycling options are out there and some alternative materials we could be using instead that are more beneficial for us and the environment.
What Exactly Is Styrofoam?
We often think of styrofoam as being anything manufactured out of that rigid, plastic foam that’s in our takeaway boxes and packing peanuts. But “Styrofoam” is the trademarked name of a kind of insulation made by the Dow Chemical Company or DuPont. “Styrofoam” is a particular form of foam called XPS, which stands for “extruded polystyrene.” It refers to how this sort of foam is manufactured — using a closed-cell extrusion process. EPS — the sort we’re accustomed to seeing daily in plates, cups, and the like – stands for “expanded polystyrene” and is manufactured by expanding the polystyrene. It’s significantly lighter and slimmer than XPS.
So what’s polystyrene? It’s a sort of resin that may be treated into a foam-like structure or left as hard plastic. It’s highly stiff and adaptable.
Officially known as “Styrofoam” and trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company, XPS stands for “extruded polystyrene” and is sturdy and thick. It’s usually used for insulation in buildings.
This kind is what we traditionally think of when we think about styrofoam. It stands for “expanded polystyrene”, which refers to the technique of expanding polystyrene cells. This kind is thinner, lighter, and more fragile. You’ll encounter it most commonly as commonplace polystyrene containers like foam plates, takeout boxes, egg cartons, mugs, etc.
Is Styrofoam Environmentally Friendly?
The two distinct varieties of styrofoam are equivalent in terms of how beneficial they are for the environment. Which is to say, they’re not environmentally friendly. Below are three of the key reasons why.
1. The Base Material Of Styrofoam Causes Cancer
For one thing, styrofoam’s primary material, styrene, is a human carcinogen and consequently exceedingly toxic to those who breathe it or whose skin is exposed to it. These interactions with styrene are more likely to occur at factories where items that include styrene, such as styrofoam, are made. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, it may also leach out of polystyrene containers. Still, the quantities of styrene that finally wind up in your food are tiny.
2. It Takes (Literally) Hundreds Of Years To Biodegrade
Part of what makes a substance ecologically friendly is its capacity to biodegrade or convert back into its original components and smoothly blend with the natural world. Polystyrene doesn’t do it very well, and that’s an understatement. In reality, for years, specialists have calculated that it would take thousands of years for polystyrene to entirely biodegrade. A research released in 2019 by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute did reveal that sunlight can disintegrate styrofoam at a significantly quicker pace. However, this technology has yet to be deployed on a big scale. Meanwhile, all that styrofoam is stacking up in our trash, our towns, and our seas at a pace quicker than we can get rid of it.
3. It Helped Create A Hole In The Ozone Layer
As you may remember from your high school biology class, the ozone layer is a layer of ozone in the Earth’s stratosphere that ordinarily absorbs most of the damaging radiation coming off the sun. Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are natural molecules like carbon and hydrogen that may really destroy the ozone layer. Damage to the ozone layer may lead to the formation of a hole through which hazardous UV radiation can flow from the sun onto the surface of the Earth unchecked.
CFCs used to be employed throughout the production process of styrofoam. Though this is no longer a conventional technique for creating styrofoam, its consequences were still hazardous to worldwide environmental safety.
4. It Endangers Wildlife
Styrofoam poses a hazard to animals, particularly those who scavenge food from dumps. As styrofoam may shatter into tiny fragments, animals generally ingest it and often choke.
How To Recycle Styrofoam
Even though it’s not biodegradable, styrofoam may still be recycled. But of course, doing so is not as straightforward as sorting everything into the closest blue recycle bin and forgetting about it. The reality is that recycling styrofoam, whether it’s EPS or XPS, is costly, and hence, many recycling facilities don’t do it.
For EPS foam to be recycled, it must first be densified: shredded and broken up into tiny microscopic bits. These bits must then be gathered and compacted into logs, which may be utilized in the production process for crown moulding.
The issue with recycling EPS foam starts with sorting. EPS foam splits so readily that the small fragments are impossible to collect up. And it can’t be placed into the blue recycling bin since the recycling procedure for items like paper or glass is different for styrofoam.
XPS foam recycling works in the same manner. However, since XPS foam is more substantial, it’s tougher to shred. Therefore, it takes larger, more costly devices to break it down. So although finding a recycler for EPS foam is challenging, finding a recycler for XPS foam is considerably more complicated.
The direct result is it’s possible to recycle styrofoam, but the lack of recycling facilities capable of processing this stiff material makes it a significant issue.
Can Styrofoam Be Reused?
There is some good news regarding styrofoam: although it’s hard to recycle, it’s simple to reuse. You may reuse it as packing material for your own goods, craft projects, plant holders, stuffing, and whatever else you can think of that you need around your house or company. And on a broader scale, industrial businesses may utilize the recycled styrofoam logs we described earlier in the article as a material to manufacture crown moulding, picture frames, and more.
What Are Some Alternative Materials To Styrofoam?
Still, however, there’s probably more styrofoam in your garbage than you can think of how to repurpose. And the sad thing is unless you have a recycling program in your region that takes this stuff, it’s simply going to pile up rubbish at the landfill that may not degrade for thousands of years.
So what can you do? You may start utilizing alternate, recyclable materials such as the ones we mentioned below:
Use paper plates, cups, and packing material; it’s biodegradable. Here you may discover some more fantastic biodegradable materials for plates. Also, employing paper for void fill in packaging is a more eco-friendly choice than using styrofoam or polystyrene pearls.
Bamboo is biodegradable. Hence it’s a perfect material to use for throwaway products, such as disposable plates, cups, cutlery or even food containers.
- Cornstarch based packaging
This material is eco-friendly, based on polylactic acid (PLA), which is manufactured from cornstarch, and degrades to carbon dioxide and water within a relatively short period (less than a year) (less than a year). This material is a natural alternative to styrofoam in disposable plates, cups, food containers, utensils, and void fill. You
- Number 1 Or 2 Recyclable Plastic
Items manufactured out of plastic frequently contain a recycling symbol with a number within it. This number in the recycling symbol shows you what sort of plastic the product is produced out of. The most recyclable numerals are 1 and 2. Use containers and disposable cups, plates, and tableware that display the number 1 or number 2 recycle sign. It’s not perfect but still better than styrofoam.
- Reusable containers
Use a reusable lunch box. If you pick up the meal yourself, even for takeout, you may bring your own lunch box. Also, use a reusable coffee cup for takeout coffee.
If you are interested in the hazards of various plastics and how they may or cannot be recycled, please check out our writing on which plastics are safe.
Conclusion: Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Yes, But It’s Hard To Do
As we mentioned previously in the text, polystyrene foam comes in two fundamental types: EPS (expanded polystyrene) and XPS (extruded polystyrene) (extruded polystyrene). EPS foam is utilized in many of the goods we use daily, such as disposable tableware. XPS foam, on the other hand, is mainly utilized as insulation in buildings. They’re built differently for their own particular purpose: EPS is supposed to be thin and flexible, whereas XPS is meant to be thick and strong.
Both varieties – EPS and XPS foam – are recyclable. But you may have problems locating a recycling facility that is capable of processing it. This is because the process of breaking down these materials is labor demanding and needs costly technology. In reality, XPS foam needs more important machinery to break down because of its thicker, more rigid structure than EPS foam.
Aside from locating a recycling service that takes EPS or XPS foam, there are two other things you may do with styrofoam: 1) reuse it, or 2) utilize the alternative recyclable materials we stated in the last part as much as feasible. This way, you limit the quantity of garbage you’re creating, and that’s being put in your municipal landfill to degrade throughout thousands of years. People who feel passionately about doing their share to build a healthy, morally sustainable environment for themselves and future generations on Earth should choose one or both of those two alternatives.
Q&A | Styrofoam Recycling
Below are some typical questions and answers concerning styrofoam, its influence on the environment, and its recyclability.
Can I put styrofoam in the recycle bin?
No, you can’t. The materials you throw in the recycle bin are treated differently from styrofoam. Not all recycling locations have the equipment to recycle styrofoam. Whether you’re unsure if they take it, it’s best to keep your excess polystyrene foam apart from the rest of your recyclable materials and then contact your local recycling facility.
Can you microwave styrofoam?
Yes, but according to Healthline, you should only microwave styrofoam objects that display the mark “microwave safe.” Products bearing that label have been evaluated by the FDA to verify their safety. If it does not clearly indicate “microwave safe” on it, heating it up might release the styrofoam’s primary material, styrene, a carcinogen.
How do I dispose of styrofoam?
Ideally, you should keep your styrofoam and reuse it or transport it to a recycling center that can handle it. However, if you must throw it out, break it down into tiny bits, so it may decompose more readily.
How long does it take for styrofoam to decompose?
Experts believe that styrofoam will take thousands of years to degrade on its own.
Is styrofoam plastic?
Styrofoam is a kind of plastic; however, it is not readily recyclable, unlike regular transparent plastic. It cannot be put in the same recycle container as transparent plastic.
Can you burn styrofoam?
You should never burn styrofoam. Burning polystyrene foam may release its primary ingredient, styrene, which is carcinogenic to humans.
Is styrofoam toxic?
Styrofoam is not harmful on its own. But if it breaks down into its constituent ingredient, styrene, it may become exceedingly dangerous by intense heat. Styrene has been shown by scientists to be a human carcinogen.
Can you heat up styrofoam?
You should only heat up styrofoam in the microwave, and only then if it is marked “microwave safe.”
Is styrofoam biodegradable?
Not really; it degrades only over an exceedingly long period of time — to the tune of hundreds of years. Other, quicker biodegrading techniques like exposure to sunshine have been researched, but none has been deployed on a wide scale. The issue of tons of foam garbage floating around in our landfills and seas for the foreseeable future remains a worry.
Is styrofoam eco-friendly?
Styrofoam is not eco-friendly. It takes an exceptionally long time to biodegrade, is not readily recyclable, and was initially created using CFCs, known to destroy the Earth’s protective ozone layer. In addition to that, its underlying material is very poisonous, which may be emitted if burned or overheated.