It seems that everywhere we turn, styrofoam is being used in some form.
You see styrofoam coffee cups, takeout containers, and packing peanuts. Major purchases like televisions are often packaged with large pieces of styrofoam to protect the contents of the box.
When you are finished with it, many people wonder what they should be doing with all of this styrofoam.
Can you recycle styrofoam?
Styrofoam can be recycled in some areas, but you should call ahead to make sure that your recycling center will accept it. In other areas, you might have to find creative ways to repurpose this type of material.
Should I Put Styrofoam in the Blue Recycling Bin?
Polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, can sometimes be recycled in the blue bin for some parts of the country.
If you look at the bottom of a styrofoam cup, you will likely find a recycle symbol with a number six inside of it. This indicates that your particular cup can indeed be recycled, but that doesn’t mean they belong in your blue curbside bin.
In fact, placing styrofoam in your blue recycling bin to be picked up with your trash may cause the entire bin to be rejected for recycling. This means that you might be doing more harm than good by attempting to recycle your styrofoam responsibly.
Fortunately, there are solutions to be more careful about the impact that they make on the environment. Depending on the area you live in, there may be ways that you can recycle your polystyrene safely and effectively instead of simply dumping it into the local landfill.
For example, you can check with your local grocery stores to see if they have a take-back program where they can responsibly discard the foam packages that they hand out for meat.
With a little bit of research, you might even find that you have a local government or recycling company that specifically collects polystyrene or styrofoam. Always check with the local government or recycling center first.
They may even tell you that you can leave your styrofoam curbside. It depends on what your recycling company is capable of handling.
Why is Styrofoam Not Recyclable in All States?
Styrofoam can be labeled as a type six plastic, indicating that it can indeed be recycled.
And yet, many areas deny responsibility for taking care of this type of plastic. They refuse to pick it up with curbside recycling programs, and local governments have no options for consumers who want to do the responsible thing with their polystyrene. Why is it not recyclable in all states?
The answer is relatively simple: not all states have the facilities necessary to recycle this difficult material.
It requires a special type of facility to break down styrofoam to a point where it can be used to manufacture something new. Not all states or cities can afford to maintain this type of facility.
What makes styrofoam so difficult to break down? It comes down to the structural properties of the product itself. It is made of 95 percent air, which causes it to become extremely brittle. It breaks easily when cleaning it and trying to remove other surface contaminants.
If you aren’t careful with it, it can easily break apart, and the pieces can scatter in the wind. This creates an even bigger problem for the environment as styrofoam can clog storm drains, litter the beaches, and find its way into the waterways.
More cities need to come up with facilities that can handle styrofoam to prevent these issues before they can begin collecting it for recycling.
How Do You Dispose of Large Styrofoam?
Some pieces of large styrofoam are indeed recyclable if you live in an area that has the facilities to handle them.
Check to see if they are marked anywhere with the recycling symbol and a number six. Then, call your local government to see if and where those facilities may be located.
It is unlikely that you will be able to simply leave these large pieces of styrofoam in your recycling bin for curbside pickup.
If you do not live in an area that can recycle styrofoam, you have a couple of different options. The first would be to break it down into smaller pieces so that it comfortably fits in your regular trash can.
This should not be too difficult as styrofoam is naturally very brittle and breaks apart with ease. Take the trash to the landfill as you normally would or wait for curbside pickup.
You might want to keep in mind that it can take hundreds of years for styrofoam to break down this way. That is why you might want to try this next creative approach to recycling instead.
If you have a large shipping company in the area, contact them to see if they will accept your styrofoam. These companies will often take used styrofoam packing peanuts and other types of packaging that they can easily reuse.
This allows someone else to get a little more use out of a product that is not near the end of its life just yet, and it gets it out of your house. It is a win-win situation for everyone!
Where Can You Drop Off Styrofoam?
There are not many places to take styrofoam. The first place you should check is with your local government.
They may have a recycling facility that is specifically designed to handle polystyrene. If so, this is the best place to take it. However, there are other options for trying to recycle their styrofoam.
If you have clean styrofoam that does not have food particles on it (you can easily wash it at home), your local grocery store may take back some of the foam.
After all, they often use styrofoam trays for packaging meats. They may have a program that allows them to accept styrofoam back from you to recycle it.
Large shipping companies are another place to check. They may allow you to drop off styrofoam that they can use to repackage their items for shipping. Companies like this are often in search of more foam peanuts and large styrofoam items.
However, if none of these places is nearby, your only option may be to break down your styrofoam and take it to the landfill with the rest of your trash. It takes a long time to decompose, but you may not have many other options.
How Long Does it Take For Styrofoam to Decompose?
Because finding a way to recycle styrofoam can be such a hassle, many people wonder whether they can just throw it on their compost heap.
Alternatively, they may wonder just how long this litter will take up space in the landfill. Unfortunately, you may not like the answer to how long it takes for polystyrene or styrofoam to decompose.
Unlike organic matter that can decompose in a matter of weeks or months, styrofoam is a bit more stubborn.
You can expect it to take somewhere in the ballpark of five hundred years or more to decompose. In some situations, it may never break down.
This is why it is so important for us to seek out alternatives to styrofoam packaging. You can bundle fragile items with shredded cardboard. Bring your own reusable Tupperware to restaurants to cut back on takeout containers.
Bring a reusable coffee mug to your favorite coffee shop instead of using a styrofoam cup! There are so many ways to cut down on your use of this material.
Is Styrofoam Biodegradable?
Unfortunately, styrofoam is not a biodegradable material.
It can take upwards of 500 years to decompose naturally. This is not an item that you will want to add to your compost heap in the backyard.
Because it is not biodegradable, you should try to minimize your use of this material unless you have a recycling facility in your local area.
Think creatively about all the times and ways you use styrofoam and see if you can substitute your use with a reusable container or with a paper version that is more easily recycled.
Is Foam Padding Biodegradable?
Much like styrofoam, foam padding found in various furniture items often finds its way into landfills where it is not biodegradable.
This padding is often treated with flame-retardant chemicals that affect its ability to be recycled into something new.
However, there are a lot of creative uses for this type of foam padding beyond just throwing it away. For example, you may cut it up and repurpose it into a dog or cat bed.
It can be used to make athletic mats so that it is more comfortable to lay on the floor for certain exercises. Consider all of the possibilities before you simply toss it into the trash can.
How Do I Know if it Can Be Recycled Locally Where I Live?
The easiest way to tell whether or not you can recycle styrofoam locally is to call your local convenience sites or recycling centers.
They can tell you whether they will accept this material or possibly refer you to another company that does.
Maria is the founder of GoDownsize. While studying architecture in Denmark she became fascinated with designing living spaces for boats, tiny houses, RVs, and other small spaces.
She mainly writes about space optimization, interior design, and downsizing. She’s also in charge of our YouTube channel. Read more about Maria here.