There is styrofoam in just about every house in the United States. This plastic is incredibly common, and is used for a number of different things all over the world. Because of its popularity, there is one question that burns in so many of our minds – is styrofoam recyclable?
What is Styrofoam?
The term ‘styrofoam’ is actually a trademark brand. Styrofoam is also commonly called polystyrene, and can be used for anything from supermarket packaging to take-outs. This product is made from styrene, a petroleum-based product that is wide spread. Styrene goes through a process called polymerization, and the styrene is refined in polystyrene. A hydrofluorocarbon is then added, and the mixture is extruded, then allowed to expand. A foam board is then created, and this is typically what we see in our daily lives.
Can You Recycle Styrofoam?
Yes, you actually can recycle styrofoam! Unfortunately, however, this is one of the most difficult things to recycle for a number of reasons. Below are two main reasons why it is so difficult to recycle styrofoam:
Styrofoam biodegrades extremely slowly. This product shows a lot of resistance to photolysis (decomposition due to light), so it can take 500 years to decompose naturally. Because of this, it cannot just be sent to landfills to take up space for five centuries.
To help combat this problem, you can try to reuse styrofoam objects to get a lot of use out of them. This may not always be possible. Additionally, you can try to use reusable containers that you can take with you when shopping. Again, this will not be a complete solution, but it will help with the amount of styrofoam that is being used.
Styrofoam is a number 6 plastic, which means that specialized equipment is needed to successfully break the product down to recycle it. Although it is recyclable, there are very few areas that actually have this equipment, so more often than not, number 6 recycling is not accepted.
You can try to combat this issue by taking your styrofoam to the recycling facilities, but they still may not accept it. If the styrofoam is contaminated with food, drink, or if it is too large, it will not be recycled.
Thankfully, there are companies that are dedicated to recycling styrofoam. Some organizations, such as GreenCitizen, have their own styrofoam condensing machine, which they put to good use. You can either find a way to drop off your clean, uncontaminated styrofoam to their location, or organize to have it picked up by someone.
In some cities, there are specialized areas you can take your styrofoam to be recycled. These are not present in very many cities because of the equipment needed, but it is worth finding out where your nearest site is. Check the website of your local government to find out the nearest drop-off location, so you can start recycling your styrofoam.
The Dangers of Styrofoam
Styrofoam is considered to be one of the items on a list of recycling contaminants. This term refers to all the items that frequently put in recycling when they cannot be recycled curbside. Unfortunately, when this happens, a lot of harm can be done. How? There is a good chance that any load that finds styrofoam will be rejected. This means that it will be extremely difficult to find the materials that are actually accepted for recycling.
The other materials that are with the styrofoam may end up in a landfill instead of being recycled.
What You Can Do About Styrofoam Use
The best thing we can do is reduce the amount of styrofoam that is used. If we can reduce the styrofoam that is used in day-to-day lives, we can make a change. Below is a list of things that we can do to reduce the amount of styrofoam that is used around the world. Although it may only look like a small thing, when more and more people join in, it makes a huge difference. Never underestimate the power of one person.
- Avoid using styrofoam cups – if you know that you are going to be going somewhere, and you just know you will be offered a styrofoam cup at some point in the day, bring your own water bottle. It doesn’t even have to be a water bottle, in fact, anything that isn’t styrofoam or a single use plastic will be a step forward. You can bring a mug, or any kind of cup you like. If you can find an alternative to ever using styrofoam, it will always be best to try. Styrofoam cups are one of the biggest problems that we face
- Take your own take-out containers – if you are going to get a take-out and know that you are going to be offered a styrofoam container to hold leftovers, make sure to bring your own container to put the food in. This alone will reduce the amount of waste a lot.
- Do not take styrofoam egg cartons – try and find an alternative to styrofoam egg cartons. This could be a challenge, but if you visit a farm, they should have something that you can use.
- Use styrofoam as a filler at home – you can always break down the styrofoam and use it to stuff things at home. If you have a bean bag that seems to be running out of steam, stuff some broken up styrofoam inside, and it will be good as new.
- Re-use packing peanuts wherever possible – if you find yourself with some packing peanuts, try and reuse them as much as you can.
- Use paper plates instead of styrofoam – if you are going to be going to an event and know that there will be styrofoam there, make sure to bring your own cups or plates. Paper plates are a great alternative.
- Talk to your local grocery store – if you want to start trying to make a big change in your local community, speak to your local grocery store and see if you can convince them to stop using styrofoam.
- Talk to your local school – similar to the point above, speak to your local school and see if you can convince them to stop serving school lunches on styrofoam trays. There are plenty of compostable and bio-degradable alternatives that can be used, and maybe you simple need to open their eyes to the possibilities.
- Recycle wherever possible – finally, recycle wherever you can. Of course, this is a challenge, despite sounded like the simplest point here. If you can find somewhere (like GreenCitizen) that will recycle your styrofoam, it is worth getting in contact and finding a solution.
Styrofoam, although it is a useful material, does more harm than good. The challenges in recycling it are spread far and wide, and with so few cities that accept it on curbside recycling, our job to take care of the plant is more difficult than ever. The best thing we can do is reduce the amount of recycling that is used, and appear to our local governments to change things. If we can convince the people in power that change needs to happen, there is no doubt that it eventually will.