Expanded polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam (trademark of Dow Chemical), is a material that is used to make some of the popular materials for packaging and shipping, including food storage containers. Though manufacturers continue to use this material in large quantities, many consumers are concerned about how its disposal may affect the environment. The issue of pollution and degradation have prompted some companies to develop Styrofoam recycling techniques, including dissolving, crushing, or reusing this material to create new products. There are several options when it comes to choosing a method.
One of the ways to recycle Styrofoam involves melting the material down in a recycling oven. Recycling ovens are designed to handle the demands of Styrofoam recycling and can shrink the material to a fraction of its normal size by getting rid of excess air. This results in a by-product that largely consists of petroleum. Others use organic compounds or chemicals, including citrus oil called limonene, to dissolve the Styrofoam without the use of recycling ovens.
Styrofoam can be recycled by placing it out for pickup or taking it to a local recycling center. Curbside recycling programs are the most convenient method; however, due to contamination rates and transportation coordination, most communities do not have Styrofoam curbside recycling programs.
If curb pickup is not available in your community, look for a mail-back program offered by Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. This program offers the opportunity to mail Styrofoam to their center for recycling. Because Styrofoam is light, this program is a fairly economical recycling method. Remember to get rid of all debris from the Styrofoam before breaking it into pieces that go into a box for shipping.
Another way to recycle Styrofoam is to donate it to someone else who can re-use, or re-use it yourself. Some grocery stores or shipping retailers, like UPS, accept foam to re-use for their packaging. Some schools might also take leftover Styrofoam.
For businesses that receive a large volume of Styrofoam, it is best to arrange with a recycling company to pick up the material. Company requirements for equipment and storage vary, but storage containers can typically remain outside in a bin where Styrofoam is kept dry, clean and unexposed. It is a good idea to find out how the company accepts the material, whether it should be stacked, condensed, bagged or bailed.
More programs are introduced regularly to make it easier for consumers and businesses to recycle Styrofoam. Many communities have these types of programs, and if there is none in your community, you can consider re-using the Styrofoam in creative ways or use the mail-back programs.