Is styrofoam (or polystyrene) recyclable?

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In some circumstances, it may be possible to recycle styrofoam via local grocery stores that include a package ‘returns program’. Some services and recycling companies offer ‘drop-off’ locations for styrofoam packaging. In general, however, local government waste services cannot / do not recycle styrofoam.

Styrofoam is often contaminated with food or drink waste, meaning that it cannot be recycled alongside ‘cleaner’ materials. Styrofoam is actually a Dow Chemical Company brand name for EPS, also known as ‘extruded polystyrene foam’ (used mainly for art supplies).

Technically, EPS can be recycled. The problem with EPS is that it is extremely difficult to recycle (economically expensive and resource intensive), hence the difficulty in locating recyclers that offer this as a service.

San Francisco is an example of a city that has banned styrofoam as a result of the environmental damage that it creates.

Why can styrofoam not be recycled?

EPS is made of a polymer. By the time it is shipped and reshaped, significant time and energy has been used in the process (money too). Generally, EPS based-products are used once only, before sitting in landfills without degrading. 

Can I put styrofoam in the recycle bin?

Polystyrene (styrofoam) packaging cannot be recycled in a recycling centre. Polystyrene that enters landfills will often sit for a very long time, without breaking down (i.e. it will not biodegrade). Disposing styrofoam into a recycling bin will also lead to the contamination of other waste, meaning that styrofoam should be placed into a general waste bin.

As discussed above, in some cases, it may be possible to recycle styrofoam via local grocery stores that include a package ‘returns program / drop-off service’. Outside of these schemes, styrofoam cannot be recycled.

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