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Is Styrofoam recyclable?


Question: Is Styrofoam recyclable?
Answer: No. Yes. Well kind of, sort of.

I get this question almost weekly working for a recycling company. Many times people assume Styrofoam is recyclable, especially if it has a recycling symbol and number on the piece. Packaging pieces and Dunkin Donut cups keep appearing more and more mixed in with single stream and glass/plastics recycling.

The truth is most forms of Styrofoam are recyclable, yes surprisingly it is. The problem is there aren’t many facilities that accept this material for recycling. For recycling to be cost effective and feasible you need a large amount of material. Recycling is measured and valued by the ton. Styrofoam is so light and bulky that this makes it difficult for facilities to manage Styrofoam. Styrofoam is similar to plastic bags in which it takes a very very long time to break down naturally. It sits in landfills for a very long time. A lot municipal and commercial waste is brought to incinerators in the area. The Styrofoam is then burned. The problem is it can be very toxic when burned and produces very little energy from combustion. There really isn’t a good disposal method for Styrofoam.

Some packaging and shipping companies will take Styrofoam peanuts, the small soft packaging material. Many places do reuse the small peanuts. Because of the shape and size they are easily reusable in packaging and shipping.

There are a few local places in the Boston area that are now recycling Styrofoam. South of Boston there is an electronics recycler that now accepts Styrofoam as well. There are also two companies/warehouse in Framingham and Providence that collect and accept Styrofoam for recycling. These two companies mainly accept large quantities, truck/trailer loads.  

Recycling of Styrofoam may not be realistic for small quantities. Instead of finding ways to recycle the material maybe we need to look at ways to reduce our consumption of Styrofoam. When purchasing a product we should consider how its packaged and what we ill do with the packaging afterwards.

What can you do with your pieces of Styrofoam? Reuse it, give it away, hord it till it becomes valuable. Sadly there’s no clear cut answer. If you can’t reuse it yourself or give it away you’ll have to get creative.