These days, many things that we used to rely on for convenience are found to be anything but.
One of the biggest areas where there’s a lot of plastic use and overconsumption comes from packaging products, with even the most basic items getting a whole lot of protection from single-use plastic to keep them safe.
Styrofoam is one of the biggest methods used by manufacturers for packaging their wares, and although it’s been proven to be a harmful plastic that’s no good for the planet, it continues to be a popular one.
If you’ve recently purchased something that has a lot of Styrofoam on it, you might be wondering what the most eco-friendly step is that you can take.
Can you recycle Styrofoam and how do you do it correctly?
Styrofoam can’t be recycled in the usual way in most cases, and although it sometimes features the recycling symbol on it, it won’t be accepted by a curbside pickup. There are ways to recycle it or dispose of it correctly, but it’s not as easy as putting it in your recycling bin for collection.
As one of the main choices of packaging and product protection used today, it’s up to us to educate ourselves on Styrofoam, how it can be recycled, and what you can do to dispose of it properly.
This guide can walk you through everything you need to know about the material and how to be eco-friendly and earth-conscious when you’re using it.
- 1 Can You Recycle Styrofoam?
- 2 How and Where to Do It Right
- 3 Disposing of Styrofoam That Can’t Be Recycled
- 4 The Dangers of Styrofoam Food Packaging
- 5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Styrofoam
- 6 Related Questions
Can You Recycle Styrofoam?
However, not many people know what to do with it, and whether or not you can recycle it, and the answer is often muddied.
While it is possible to recycle styrofoam when it’s mainly in white and pure form, it’s not as simple as putting it into your recycling curbside bin and being done with it.
Most state and local recycling programs have styrofoam listed as an item that can’t be recycled, and it’s commonly referred to as a contaminant, which causes problems if it’s mixed in with the rest of your recyclables and causes most of the load to be thrown out.
This can be confusing because Styrofoam often comes with a recycling label or symbol on it, which is why many people throw it into their trash without a thought.
As a material, it’s made of a mixture of chemicals and petroleum, like other plastics, and has a lot of air within it that makes it so ideal for packaging. Although it is recyclable, it’s not usually done at your local recycling station, so you have to know how to do it right.
How and Where to Do It Right
If you’ve got a lot of Styrofoam and want to make sure you’re handling it in the most eco-friendly way, there are some things you can do to recycle it.
These are your options for something as small as a coffee cup or as large as the packaging that came with your new TV.
Your local grocery store
Some grocery stores have additional recycling programs that allow you to drop things off that can’t be collected curbside. These are items like soft plastics and foam and can be as small as packing peanuts.
If you purchased larger electronics or items, you might be able to return the Styrofoam to the store it came from, but check with them first before you attempt to.
Drop off recycling stations
Check your local area for recycling programs and stations that are close by, as you may be able to drop them off there.
There are some specifically dedicated to foam packaging like this, and they will be able to recycle it correctly without letting it go into landfills.
In some areas, Styrofoam is considered an acceptable recyclable and it might be as easy as putting it into your bin for collection.
However, before you attempt to do so, contact your local council or recycling program to find out what’s accepted and what isn’t.
Some companies and shipping companies accept donations of Styrofoam.
This enables them to not rely on manufacturing more and gives you a way to reuse your Styrofoam that also gets it out of your house.
Disposing of Styrofoam That Can’t Be Recycled
Although recycling should be the first step that you take with any materials, there might be times when it just isn’t possible.
As Styrofoam and other foam products like it have the potential to do a lot of damage when not disposed of correctly, you should take care to get right of it the right way.
- Check the Styrofoam for any recyclable parts that can be removed and then recycled before you throw the main part away.
- Break the packaging down so that it’s in smaller pieces, as this makes it easier to get rid of and won’t take up too much space in your bin.
- Only dispose of the Styrofoam in a standard trash bin and not the recycling bin.
The Dangers of Styrofoam Food Packaging
There was once a time when Styrofoam was used for just about everything, including food packaging until people started learning about the dangers of it.
Today, there are still some products that rely on this type of packaging for their foods, but as consumers, it’s important to avoid them where we can.
The biggest issue with using Styrofoam for food and drink packaging is Styrene; a chemical found in this type of foam that has been proven to leech into food and drinks that it surrounds, especially when it’s at warm or hot temperatures.
Making choices to use eco-friendly packaging and containers, as well as choosing brands that do their part for the environment, reduces your risk of exposure and also pushes these companies to move away from using something so harmful.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Styrofoam
Innovators are always coming up with ways to move away from harmful packaging solutions like foam and Styrofoam and focus instead on sustainable and easily recyclable options.
There are now some great eco-friendly alternatives that you can try for yourself that are easier to recycle and safer for the planet, and by choosing brands that use them too, you’re sending a clear message to other companies that this is what the average consumer expects.
Simple packing paper is a good way to wrap items and keep them safe during transport. This option is easy to recycle and is often made of recycled items itself, so it’s a smart and sustainable choice.
Molded paper pulp
Commonly referred to as molded fiber, this pulp is made of recycled paper and a great way to package items that require the same shapes of protection that foam had offered.
Packaging that can be used more than once is a far more sustainable option and has been used in local and international freight for some time now.
Examples of this include glass bottles, pallets, totes, and shipping containers, ensuring years of usage rather than just singular consumption.
One of the hardest parts of recycling is knowing what can and can’t be placed in your curbside bin, but educating yourself on it is important.
Styrofoam is one of many products that become confusing when you’re trying to do the right thing and recycle, so we’ve answered some questions that can hopefully clear things up.
Will Vinegar Dissolve Styrofoam?
A common misconception is that you can break down Styrofoam into a liquid by using vinegar to dissolve it, as it has a high content of acid.
However, this is untrue as it is more of a dilute acid of around 5% only, which means it would have to be extremely concentrated to do anything against Styrofoam and other plastics.
Can I Burn Styrofoam?
Another method that people might attempt to dispose of Styrofoam is to burn it, but this is one of the most dangerous things you can do.
When burned, this material releases a number of toxic chemicals and pollutants that can damage the lungs and nervous system. Never attempt to burn Styrofoam, but rather put it directly into the trash or an appropriate recycling system to get rid of it.
How Long Does Styrofoam Take to Decompose?
One of the reasons why Styrofoam is so important to dispose of correctly is because it never decomposes, which means it’s not biodegradable and will sit in a landfill for the rest of time.
Therefore, taking the right route with recycling is essential when you’re trying to dispose of Styrofoam, so it can be broken down and made into something else.