Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

Being a good citizen of the world means trying to lessen our environmental impact. We've all gotten pretty used to bringing our own bags shopping instead of using single-use plastic bags, and most of us know to recycle paper and plastics. But not all plastics are recyclable, and not all recycling programs take all types of plastic. If you get a lot of products shipped to you, like we all do these days, you may have a lot of cardboard and Styrofoam waste. You know about recycling cardboard, but can you recycle Styrofoam?

What is Styrofoam?

can you recycle styrofoam
Flickr: Kai Hendry

First, what exactly are we talking about when we say Styrofoam? Technically and by trademark, Styrofoam is closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam invented by Dow Chemical Company in 1954; it's used as a building material for insulation. But today, anything that is made with expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS, is generally referred to as Styrofoam. That's all your coffee cups, egg cartons, food containers, packing peanuts, foam cups, take out containers and other shipping materials.

You can tell if it's EPS if you see a number 6 anywhere on the surface of the Styrofoam, which is why you may also see it called No. 6 plastic.

Can you recycle Styrofoam?

Technically, yes, Styrofoam can be recycled. But most Styrofoam ends up in the landfill because local recycling facilities aren't set up to handle it. The first thing you need to do is check to see if your recycling center accepts No. 6 plastic.

If they do accept it for curbside pickup, you may be asked to sort it into a different recycling bin than the one you use for glass, cardboard or other plastics.

If they don't accept it as part of a curbside recycling service, the best thing to do is find a nearby drop-off center (if your municipality doesn't have a website with that information, you can look for one on Earth911).

An important thing to remember if your recycling food containers is to rinse them out. Food debris and waste may get the items tossed out of the recycling pile since it can gum up the machinery.

For packing peanuts or other packing material, you can check with your local shipping store to see if they will take the material for reuse.

The best thing you can do to avoid recycling Styrofoam is to not use it in the first place. There are plenty of reusable options for coffee cups and food containers.

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