Is Styrofoam recyclable? Technically, yes…

  • Date: May 13, 2022

Styrofoam is everywhere. From getting your eggs home safely from the supermarket to roof and floor insulation. Its lightweight, insulating and protective properties ensure that it finds a use in most industries.  Unfortunately, like most things, it will not last forever. But how should you dispose of it when it comes to the end of its usable like – is Styrofoam recyclable? Well, that depends if you are a regular household or a big business. Let’s take a closer look…

What is Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a foam-like material made from the organic compound styrene. The word ‘Styrofoam’ is used by many as an interchangeable term for polystyrene. In fact, Styrofoam is the brand name for a specific type of polystyrene. Although derived from petroleum, arguably, they are both fairly eco-friendly in some ways. Being predominantly air (over 95%), they are lightweight and are great way to package and insulate items for transport.

Is Styrofoam recyclable?

Household Styrofoam, and polystyrene, is not recyclable in most areas.  As a material, it is recyclable  – but the infrastructure is just not there in many areas. It is an expensive process and demand is not deemed sufficiently high to make it worth it.

As well as not having the equipment to carry out the process, there are a number of other reasons why it is not readily recycled. Styrofoam, and polystyrene, items are often bulky and make collection more challenging – not to mention their ability to be blown away by a sudden gust of wind! It is also often used for takeaway containers. Unless unused, these are likely to be contaminated with remnants of food – unfortunately, a big no-no for recycling. As with all recycling, facilities vary from country to county and even city to city. So, you should always check with your local authorities for up-to-date information.

However, it isn’t all bad news when it comes to recycling! As mentioned, it is a recyclable material.  Businesses who use a lot of the stuff, such are large retailers and manufacturers, tend to opt for recycling. It is estimated that in the U.K., nearly 55% is recycled. Specialized recycling plants deal with this, rather than the regular ones that household waste end up at.

How to dispose of Styrofoam/polystyrene (if you aren’t a big business!)

Local authorities generally recommend that you simply dispose of styrofoam and polystyrene by cutting it into small-ish pieces and throwing it in the trash. From here, it will go to landfill and more than likely outlive you. Instead, there are a few ways that you can divert it from landfill for a little bit longer. If you search for this on Google you will, most likely return answers such as ‘make your own superglue’ and other complicated or unrealistic ideas. We like to keep it simple – because then it is much more likely to happen!

Re-use Styrofoam/polystyrene as packaging

There is a reason these are used as packaging to begin with – they are great at cushioning items for sending. Simply use them again for this purpose. Either break it into smaller pieces to act like homemade packing peanuts or if you have a larger item to send you can cut the Styrofoam/polystyrene to shape. Like a lot of eco-friendly practices, it will save you money too.

Use it in the garden

If you are green fingered, you can use Styrofoam in the garden. Although common practice for several years, it is recommended by many to avoid packing peanuts as a means of drainage in your pots. They can cause havoc with deep plant roots. A container-in-container approach is often recommended instead to avoid these issues. However, you can use it for other garden activities. Styrofoam/polystyrene boxes can be used as planters – just ensure they have adequate drainage, pop a few holes in.

Use Styrofoam for arts and crafts

Over on Pinterest you will find countless, creative ways to use your old Styrofoam for crafting, from making ornaments to printmaking. These types of activities are also a great way to start the conversation with your kids about living in a planet-friendly way. Fun and educational – what’s not to like? (As always, adult supervision is recommended).

The bottom line

In terms of household recycling, options are limited. Most local recycling centers simply do not have the facilities to do it. Businesses, on the other hand, are able to send their huge quantities on to specialist recycling plants. Ideally, you should avoid using Styrofoam where possible. For example, choose the eggs packaged in carboard or plastic, both of which are easily recyclable. Where this is not possible, these are countless ways to reuse it to divert it from landfill as long as possible.