July 18

Can Styrofoam Be Recycled?


can styrofoam be recycledWhen you order any package online or buy eggs from the local market, you might have noticed that the packaging often has a considerable amount of Styrofoam in it. Did you know that soft, white, foamy stuff is actually a type of plastic? Styrofoam is one of the most widely used plastics in the world, which brings up an important question: can Styrofoam be recycled?


Can Styrofoam be recycled?

Here is the no-nonsense answer: NO. Styrofoam cannot be recycled (However, it is technically recyclable, more on that later). In fact, it is one of the many reasons why Styrofoam is one of the most dangerous plastics on Earth.

To the surprise of many people, Styrofoam isn’t the actual name of the material that is used to make your packing peanuts and life rafts. Styrofoam is just a trademark brand of one of the most popular manufacturers of this material. The actual name of this product is polystyrene, made from the molding of petroleum-based polystyrene beads to create light, foam-like sheets. Unfortunately, the nature of these sheets does not allow them to be recycled, which is why they end up in landfills, oceans, and even photo-degrade to release toxins in the air.

Polystyrene is extremely deadly; apart from being one of the few non-recyclable plastics, it is also one of the most polluting ones on Earth. What’s worse is that there is virtually no safe way to dispose of Styrofoam. If you leave it out in landfills it will photo-degrade or get washed up in the nearby waterway, whereas if you try to incinerate it there would be a ton of toxic gases that get released into the air, so either way, you’re destroying the environment.

So, can styrofoam be recycled? Nope. Is it a problem? Absolutely. How big of a problem is it? Probably one that we won’t be able to control for a long, long time.


Why is Styrofoam so popular?

If Styrofoam isn’t recyclable, and it is one of the greatest pollutants on the planet, one wonders why it is so popular. In fact, everyday several tons of polystyrene is produced around the globe. So why is it popular among manufacturers and retailers?

One of the reasons why Styrofoam is so popular is because it is extremely cheap to produce for manufacturers. When polystyrene is molded to create Styrofoam, it is injected with air to give it a fluffy, puffy feel. When finished, one Styrofoam sheet can be several meters long and only weigh a few kilograms, because it has a 90% air content.

Since Styrofoam is so light and cheap, it automatically becomes a popular option for retailers as packing material. The light and fluffy nature of Styrofoam means that it can fully fill any type of container and have minimal weight, thereby saving extra costs on shipping.

However, the popularity of Styrofoam implies high demand, which isn’t looking to die down anytime soon. Since Styrofoam is made from plastic, the demand for fossil fuels remains at an all time high. Styrofoam itself is an environmental hazard, and the increased extraction of fossil fuels over the years has only made the situation worse.


Why does it have a recycling symbol?

If Styrofoam is not recyclable, why does it have a number on the list of recyclable plastics? Styrofoam is technically recyclable, but the nature of Styrofoam does not allow an efficient recycling process for this material. Like we said before, Styrofoam is about 90% air, which means the only real way to recycle it would be to first crush it down, thoroughly clean it and then re-mold it to form other products.

However, most recycling plants around the world do not have such machinery to efficiently crush Styrofoam and remove all air, and those who do have access to relevant machinery still cannot efficiently recycle the material because the entire process causes more harm to the environment than good. This is why most recycling facilities consider Styrofoam as a contaminant, because it is not worth recycling and has no other viable outcome other than being discarded as a waste product.


How to lower your Styrofoam use?

Let’s face it, Styrofoam isn’t going anywhere for some time, and it is very less likely that manufacturers would not be using Styrofoam for packaging needs. However, there is a way to reduce the amount of Styrofoam you have around your home.

Start looking for alternative packaging materials, such as recycled cardboard and paper. Avoid any egg cartons made from Styrofoam. Today, egg cartons made from recycled paper and cardboard are on the rise, which are much more eco friendly than your traditional polystyrene based packaging.

However, sometimes you just can’t avoid Styrofoam, such as when you’re given Styrofoam plates and cups by a street vendor. Instead of throwing them away after use, you can wash them and reuse them in your home (Don’t use it too many times though, since plastic tends to release chemicals with overuse).

Can Styrofoam be recycled? No, but it’s not like you can’t do anything about it. Start from home and make a habit of reducing Styrofoam (and plastic in general) from your lives. You’d be surprised by how big of an impact you can make with these little changes you make right at home.


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