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How to Dispose of Styrofoam Safely: Help Protect the Environment!



Styrofoam, or polystyrene, is absolutely everywhere. It is used in the packaging of goods for transporting and is routine used as the basis for packaging material, in general. It is also used in insulation. It is lightweight and has excellent shock absorption qualities, but around 15 million tonnes of the stuff is produced every single year, and most of this ends up in bins and, eventually, in the landfill.

Unfortunately, most recycling collection services and recycling centers will not accept the material, so it ends up being thrown as general waste. Only a little more than 10% of the Styrofoam produced is recycled per annum and one-third of an average landfill is made up of packaging material. Some companies are attempting to minimize the packaging they use, while governments are moving to have recycling collections accept and properly recycle the material, but in the meantime, there are several ways that you can safely dispose of the material and ensure that it does not become a landfill statistic.

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Can You Throw Styrofoam in the Recycling Bin?

styrofoam rounds
Image Credit By: PPD, pixnio

Theoretically, Styrofoam can be recycled. It can be taken away, compacted, and then reused as packaging material. However, the material is made up of #6 plastic and air. It is this combination that makes it light and easy to ship and allows for its use as a packaging material without adding to the cost of transport.

However, this combination also makes it prohibitive for waste collection and recycling collection companies to gather and recycle the material. It cannot be automatically sorted which makes it cost-prohibitive to recycle it. It is less expensive to make new Styrofoam, rather than recycle and reuse old containers. But that doesn’t help when disposing of the packaging material.

Break It Down

Styrofoam is very light, which means that it is used to absorb shock and prevent damage to products that are in transit. It also means that pieces of the material tend to be large, and they will need breaking down before you can hope to fit them in your bin. In some cases, especially when it was used as packaging for large products, it may even be too large to fit in the trunk of your car.

Break down the Styrofoam carefully, ensuring that as little of the material blows away as possible. The tiny pellets can easily break off. They can find their way into the drains, into rivers, and, eventually, into oceans and the sea. Single-use plastics and Styrofoam are major pollutants in our waters and on our coastline.

Throw It Away

styro balls
Image Credit By: _Alicja_, pixabay

If you only have a very small amount of Styrofoam, you may choose to throw it in the general waste bin. It simply isn’t practical to get in the car and drive to a recycling center. Arguably, the damage of driving to the recycling center and back could cause as much harm to the environment as throwing the plastic in the bin.

With that said, when the material makes it to landfill, it is very light but large. It will take up a lot of room, takes hundreds of years to break down, and the small pellets easily blow away and into waterways. Consider gathering a large bag of Styrofoam cups and other items before taking them to your local recycling center.

Find a Recycling Center

Use the Earth 911 recycling center locator to find a recycling center near you. Different centers will accept different forms of the expanded polystyrene. Many delivery centers and companies will take Styrofoam chips that are used as packaging because they can reuse these items without having to do anything to the material. However, to-go cups and takeaway containers are a different story because of the contaminants that these contain.

Transport It

Finally, once you know where to take your recycling, you will have to transport it. Use large bags with a secure top. The material is light and will easily blow about once it is in the wind.

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Is It Better to Burn Styrofoam or Throw It Away?

Some people consider burning Styrofoam as being an alternative to recycling or the proper disposal of the packaging material. However, burning expanded polystyrene releases carbon monoxide and black carbon into the air. These can be highly toxic and very dangerous, and this is one of the reasons that this disposal method is not routinely used. It is also the main reason why you should not burn packing chips and Styrofoam yourself.

How Long Does It Take for Styrofoam to Decompose?

Nobody knows for certain how long it takes for Styrofoam to decompose. This is because it was invented and first used in 1941. Experts believe that it will take a minimum of 500 years to decompose, but this cannot be proven because it has only existed for 80 years. So far, it has not been disproven either. Other experts claim that it may never break down or decompose.

Is Styrofoam a Hazardous Waste?

Even though the polystyrene manufacturing process has been listed as the fifth-largest source of hazardous waste as of 1986, Styrofoam itself is not considered hazardous waste.

How Do You Dispose of Bubble Wrap?

Bubble wrap is another common packaging material, and while many of us enjoy popping the little pockets of air, the wrap itself is another item that cannot be recycled in our home recycling bins, in most cases. Fortunately, it does take up a lot less room, and you can collect a large volume of bubble wrap and other soft plastics before taking them to a recycling center or having them collected by a recycling company in your area.

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Dispose of Styrofoam Safely

Styrofoam is the trading name of a brand of expanded polystyrene. This lightweight material finds its way to landfills, if we’re lucky, or into the seas and oceans if we’re unlucky. Its weight and cost mean that it is not easy to recycle and this, in turn, means that it cannot be placed in a home recycling bin. Packaging materials like Styrofoam chips can be taken to shipping and manufacturing companies for reuse, and some other forms of Styrofoam can be recycled at recycling plants, but those products that have been contaminated with food cannot be recycled and will usually end up in the bin.

Featured Image Credit By: Ekaterina43, shutterstock

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