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Top Ten Styrofoam Recycling Tips

November 27th, 2008 · 19 Comments

This article explains about top 10 styrofoam recycling tips in details. Here are some important tips.

styrofoam block

Expanded polystyrene foam, commonly referred to as styrofoam, is one of the most common materials used in a wide variety of applications – from appliances packaging to take-out food containers to building insulation. Styrofoam recycling is slowly expanding in the US, but at present there is still so much of this material that ends up in our landfills. It is estimated that 30% of the total solid waste volume dumped in landfills is polystyrene.

The term styrofoam is actually a registered trade mark of Dow Chemical Company and refers to a polystyrene insulation product that the company manufactures in sheets for construction projects. The bricks and pellets that we often see in appliance packaging and the thin containers used in the food industry are more accurately known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging. (Please see plastic recycling symbol no.6).

Why is styrofoam recycling important?

Polystyrene or styrofoam is manufactured from petroleum. As such, it is highly flammable and may not be safe to use as improvised wall insulation. It is illegal to burn styrofoam because this would release harmful chemicals to the atmosphere, notably benzene, a known human carcinogen used in the manufacturing process of polystyrene.

It is bulky and hard to recycle, and takes an incredible amount of time to break down. You probably heard a chemistry teacher tell your high school class that polystyrene foam will be around much longer than the Statue of Liberty. The use of polystyrene for food packaging is now completely banned in some US cities. Environmentalists and oceanographers also note that EPS is one of the main ocean pollutants, being found in abundance in what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the northern Pacific Ocean that’s said to contain 3.3 million pieces of plastic garbage per square kilometer.

Styrofoam recycling is  a cause for concern here in the US because there are relatively few cities that have facilities to recycle this material and because of contamination issues in the EPS used in the food industry. This last one is a particularly costly issue – recylers have to spend more resources on personnel and work hours just to clean up the used food packaging material they collect before these can be recycled. There are publicized advances in technology recently that will allow recyclers to accept used food packaging, but these innovations are available only to the big cities, at present.

Watch: Styrofoam Recycling Machine

If you’re like me and just need to know what to do or where to send your packaging for styrofoam recycling, here are some suggestions:

Reuse it

I’m sure there were times when you were packing something for shipping and there just wasn’t any packaging or padding material in the house. To reduce volume and save on storage space, you might want to cut the bricks into smaller pieces – it’s faster to do this with a heated knife or wire – and store the material in a plastic bag for future use.

Use it as insulation

As mentioned above, EPS is highly flammable so it is unsafe to use this as makeshift insulation in residential buildings. But they’re excellent for insulation of outbuildings like a dog house, tool shed, woodworking shop or pumping house within your property.

Styrofoam recycling with oranges

Styrofoam dissolves to 1/20th of its original volume when sprayed with an organic citrus peel extract called limonene, and the resulting gooey substance can be used as super glue. Limonene  is found in some products now available in the market. On an industrial scale, Sony Corporation of Japan is now starting to use this environment-friendly process in styrofoam recycling.  Limonene can be used repeatedly for styrofoam recycling, while polystyrene is processed to produce industrial grade foams and pellets for reuse. See the explanation of this process here.

Earth 911.com

Just looking for a facility nearby to drop off the bulky material? Earth 911.com provides a great service to help you locate a styrofoam recycling facility in your area. It’s in a search bar right at the top of their home page – just type in polystyrene together with your zip or city and you will be directed to nearby recycling facilities.

Sowing green with styrofoam

If you live in a farming area, your local planter might want to take in polystyrene bricks. They use the material for plant beds and drainage. Or you can always start a bit of backyard or roof deck gardening yourself using styrofoam as improvised plant boxes.

Fishing with styrofoam

If you’re lucky enough to  live near a fishing village or community, they just might have a need for your bulky EPS. These are used as floaters, buoys, fishing fly holders, markers, underwater net trap lifters, and parts for artificial reefs.

Creative styrofoam

Are you into model trains? EPS is an excellent material for creating realistic mini-structures like buildings, bridges, mountains, and trees that would add more pleasure to the model train experience. If you’re not into creating miniature train tracks snaking along styrofoam villages and mountains, you might want to take your bulky packaging to a local craft shop – it might just end up as a prize-winning entry to an art competition somewhere.

Mailing companies

Check with your local UPS store for styrofoam recycling. Many of these will now accept styrofoam packing peanuts for reuse. A few will take in both peanuts and bricks for reuse in packaging.

Mail it to a recycler

Cut the bricks into smaller pieces and ship your material to the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers for styrofoam recycling. As explained in their website, shipping the bulky EPS material to them is far more economical and environment-friendly compared to hauling the material somewhere.

Styrofoam for cash

You might want to consider selling your EPS, if you have a big pile of it in your home or office. Find a buyer located within your state at the American Chemistry Council. They host the Recycled Plastic Markets Database, and chances are you’ll find a buyer who also owns a styrofoam recycling facility.

Tags: Plastic Recycling

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Fia // Nov 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    There are no styrofoam facilities within 50 miles of where I live so I would need to use other alternatives.

    Limonene seems like a great idea, but $30 for the amount of styrofoam I am using is a little excessive.

    How much limonene do you need to break down a piece of styrofoam?

  • 2 Noni J // Nov 29, 2008 at 1:52 am

    I find recycling so much trouble so I omitted use of styrofoam years before. In parties, I use paper plates and real plates. I always try to reuse plastic spoons and forks whenever I can. I also avoided plastic bottles because I have to separate the caps–and caps are usually not accepted in recycling centers.

  • 3 Steven Fox // Dec 18, 2008 at 2:56 am

    Nice site, I never knew so much about recycling. I will quote you if I use your articles on my site, http://unitedstatesvicepresident.com . I worry that with the bad economy we will stop recycling. One of the bad side effects of deflation.

  • 4 Long Beach Airport Parking // Jan 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I recycle, but only the obvious — aluminum cans. Don’t think I have too much styrofoam waste.

  • 5 Steph // Jan 15, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I live in area where over 20 surfboard manufactures operate. They all generate large quantities of polystyrene “dust”, all which is taken to landfill. Is there a way to re-constitute this fine powder into blocks? Any glue/cement or bonding material that can be used? I am a sculptor,landscaper and builder of alternate structures and installations,any help would be greatly appreciated,thanks!

  • 6 Poly-Wood // Feb 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Steven Fox,
    With the down turned economy recycling is taking a back seat. As you can see at the NY Times post here – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/business/08recycle.html – companies are not paying premium prices for recycled material anymore. In fact buyers of recycled tin used to pay $327 a ton only a year ago, pay $5 a ton now.

    The problem in the recyclables market has gotten much worse than the stock market itself. Do you think Obama’s administration has a chance to turn this around in time before the recycle industry collapses?

  • 7 unlock iphone // Feb 14, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I think that the main problem is commercial waste, The domestic house hold now recycles more that ever which is a good thing.

  • 8 uninstall tool // Feb 14, 2009 at 9:17 am

    There should be more recycling centres around. I live in the uk and there needs to be more, now.

  • 9 Harden // Apr 26, 2009 at 6:35 am

    We have developed an inexpensive machine for Styrofoam compaction. Compacted foam blocks are less expensive for transportation. See http://www.eps-compactor.com/

  • 10 care-n // Apr 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I thought I didn’t have much styrofoam waste until I began collecting a week’s worth to be sure. It is amazing how much styrofoam is used in fast-food chains.

    If enough of us were to write to restaurants such as Sonic (who is a famous user of styrofoam to hold their wonderful ice!) and implore them to institute a recycling program within their locations, this would keep some of this toxic material out of landfills.


  • 11 GreenGuy // Jun 23, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I ordered a gallon of d-Limonene “Orange Terpene” from GreenTerpene.com. It is amazing how citrus peel extract breaks down polystyrene. I am so glad i found a way to breakdown all of the packaging we otherwise would send to a landfill.

    Also, the stuff cleans like a dream. You should definitely try it out!

  • 12 Eviroguy // Jul 4, 2009 at 6:18 am

    Any ideas to promote removal of water from waterlogged styrofoam?

  • 13 lavina arni // Jul 10, 2009 at 2:47 am

    hi im a civil engineering student and where having a research about recycling the used styrofoam. we decided to used it as an isulator for the room in our school because we cant feel the cold of our aircon in our room if were using it..but our problem is we dont have a machine to recycle the styrofoam..do u have an alternative for it? pls help us we really need your advise…

  • 14 David White // Jul 17, 2009 at 7:24 am

    It’s amazing how even after all this environmental consciousness, we still don’t have even the least useful common ability to recycle (for our own, personal use) stuff like expanded polystyrene. And NO, taking it all to a recycling center isn’t the solution since I don’t get ANY personal gain out of it. Why doesn’t the recycling center have a place to drop off EPS, and a place to pick up EPS blocks at the same facility? So I can just pay a small fee for effectively re-forming my submitted materials?

    Now, I have to figure out how to re-use styrofoam BY MYSELF, since none of these so-called capitalists and hobbyists have worked on a common solution. Apparently, capitalists and hobbyists in the West have preferred spending their time daytrading and doing other worthless stuff with information technology, instead of using their vast educations to arrive at physical solutions for our materials streams. What a WASTE!

  • 15 getplaning // Jul 27, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Put some acetone in a spray bottle and spray it onto the styrofoam. The acetone will dissolve the styrofoam down to about 3% of its original volume. It can then be recycled with other plastics.

  • 16 4o lcd hdtv // Jul 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Great tips. thanks

  • 17 nilpagol // Sep 21, 2009 at 6:22 am

    pls give a perfect solusion for recycling wastage styropor in our country bangladesh.

  • 18 Golden Beach homes // Sep 23, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Excellent share, burning is not a solution and yes it’s only harmful for the environment and for the health of near-by residents as well. Re-using is one solution but if you’ve decided to recycle it, make sure the facilities have proper equipment to deal with it.

  • 19 San Diego movers // Nov 9, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    My city recently began a recycling program, and so far it is going quite well. I do my best to recycle as frequently as possible. Thanks for these tips.