A practical guide to styrofoam recycling — Ecomasteryproject


Styrofoam is a common form of plastic. It is commonly used for manufacturing disposable cups and containers.

The word Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is known as Styrofoam. It is manufactured using petroleum which is a non-renewable resource and it is highly inflammable.

It is a lightweight material but highly space-consuming. It is non-biodegradable and is a threat to the environment.

Styrofoam has been banned in many parts of the U.S.

Its recycling rate is also low due to a lack of commercial viability for recycling.

The current article provides insights into the dangers of Styrofoam. It highlights the problems with Styrofoam recycling and tips for recycling it.

Different innovative ideas for Styrofoam recycling and use are also discussed.

Dangers of Using Styrofoam

Styrofoam is a commonly used material for packing food and other items. It may seem pretty innocuous to most of us. However, it is a non-biodegradable material and is harmful to the environment. The following are the critical dangers of using Styrofoam:

Non-Biodegradable Material

The biggest threat of using Styrofoam is that it is a non-biodegradable material. It does not degrade and remains intact for a few hundred years either in landfills or the ocean. This is very harmful to the environment.

It can contaminate the land or marine ecosystem and cause severe damage to them.

If you are serious about environmental conservation, then you should either stop using Styrofoam or send them for recycling.

You can speak to your nearest recycling location and inquire if they recycle Styrofoam. If they do, you must send them the waste Styrofoam for recycling.

Uses Non-Renewable Energy for Production

Styrofoam uses petroleum for its production. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource.

The more Styrofoam is manufactured, the higher will be the stress on petroleum reserves.

Recycling it will reduce the need for additional petroleum for producing it.

This reduces the carbon footprint of the recycled Styrofoam.

Recycled Styrofoam resembles wood and is used for making wooden benches or fence posts in public places.

This further reduces the need for real wood for making these benches and fence posts.

It helps in reducing tree felling. Hence, Styrofoam recycling helps greatly in environmental conservation.

Space Consuming

Styrofoam is a space-consuming material. When disposed of, it takes a lot of space in the landfills. It takes up the majority of the area in landfills and fills them up quickly.

More landfills are needed to dump such space-consuming waste materials.

Since it is not a bio-degradable material, it can remain in landfills for hundreds of years.

This can contaminate the land in the long run.

Styrofoam recycling helps in reducing the waste volume and frees up landfill space.

More waste materials can be dumped in landfills if space-consuming materials like Styrofoam is cleared up. It will help in environmental conservation.

Dangerous for Food Items

Styrofoam is commonly used for packing food items.

Since it is lightweight and easy to carry, most of us use it for packing and carrying our food.

However, it is not a food-grade safe material. It is not chemically inert and can react with the food items.

It may leach chemicals into your food items which can contaminate it. This will make your food unsafe for consumption.

People carry food in Styrofoam for outdoor trips, picnics, etc. They leave the packaging behind that creates a lot of mess.

Authorities have to spend money and time to clean it, and it ends up in landfills or the ocean.

Styrofoam recycling helps to get rid of this non-biodegradable material.

A Threat to Marine Life

Styrofoam is a threat to marine life. It is non-biodegradable and remains in the oceans for a long time.

Over time it starts to disintegrate into smaller particles and remain in the water.

It is often mistaken for food by fish and other marine creatures. Once they eat Styrofoam particles, it clogs their digestive system, which leads to their slow and painful death.

Some studies have estimated that Styrofoam accounts for 60–80% of the total marine garbage. This is a high number and indicates the damage that it can do to the marine ecosystem and marine life.

Styrofoam recycling can help to reduce the junk that ends up in the ocean. It will reduce its negative impact on the marine creatures.

Problems with Styrofoam Recycling

The benefits of recycling Styrofoam are well-known. However, it is not applied on a large scale.

The same properties that make it usable make it difficult to recycle.

It is estimated that the Styrofoam recycling rate is only 12%.

It is cheaper to manufacture fresh Styrofoam than to collect and recycle it.

The material is space-consuming and transporting lots of light, and voluminous Styrofoam for recycling is not cost-effective.

Most commercial recyclers avoid Styrofoam recycling, as it is not a profitable venture. They have found new ways to treat it for reducing its volume, which makes it easier and more cost-effective to transport.

Tips for Styrofoam Recycling

Styrofoam should be disposed of carefully. It is a hazardous material and is non-biodegradable.

If left in the landfills or oceans, it can remain for hundreds of years.

It can easily contaminate the land and sea, which can have a severe impact on the environment.

It is our duty as responsible global citizens to take care of the environment.

You should know what to do with used Styrofoam in your house.

The different ways in which you can play your part for Styrofoam recycling are as follows:

Drop-Off Sites

A convenient way to ensure Styrofoam recycling is to find a recycling drop-off site near you.

You can check the availability of the drop-off site online. It is better to call them in advance to inquire whether they accept Styrofoam and in what form.

This will help you to prepare the Styrofoam better before sending it to the drop-off site.

Some recycling facilities also provide the convenience of pick up at your doorstep.

Before you send Styrofoam to the drop-off site, it is important to prepare it in a form that is accepted by the drop-off site.

Ensure that it is free from all types of labels, tapes, plastic films, etc.

Any kind of contaminant present can hamper the recycling process. Drop-off facilities generally don’t accept contaminated Styrofoam.


If there are no drop-off sites near you, then you can use the mail-back option to send used Styrofoam for recycling.

You will be required to pay for shipping the Styrofoam for recycling.

However, as it is a lightweight material, shipping it won’t cost you much.

You can expect to pay less than $10 per box.

When you ship the Styrofoam, you should remove all debris and waste from it before breaking it into smaller pieces to fit in the shipping box.

Reuse for Packaging

One of the best and cost-effective ways to recycle Styrofoam is to reuse it for packaging.

Some companies accept used Styrofoam for packing peanuts.

You can inquire with them on how to donate the used Styrofoam with you.

You can send it directly to the company or drop it at collection centers located near you.

There are drop-off online maps available that you can refer to for finding the nearest collection center.

This will not only ensure proper use of Styrofoam; it will also reduce the need to manufacture more Styrofoam. It will help to contribute positively to environmental conservation.

Styrofoam Recycling Ideas

Styrofoam recycling is not very popular. As mentioned earlier, recyclers don’t recycle it on a large scale. It is not cost-effective for them to do so.

This creates a problem and leads to inefficient disposal of Styrofoam which is a dangerous material for the environment.

Most of the Styrofoam either end up in landfills or even worse, in the ocean. It is one of the most leading ocean pollutants. Styrofoam severely affects the marine ecosystem and kills marine creatures.

One of the best ways of dealing with this problem is to reuse Styrofoam in different creative ways.

Some of the most innovative ideas for Styrofoam recycling and reuse are discussed below:

Drainage in Plant Pots

A creative way to use Styrofoam is to put it in plant pots. You can use it in place of pebbles, gravel, ceramic shards, etc. in your plant pot.

It is simple to use. You need to line the plant pot with small Styrofoam pieces and put your plant like usual.

<A clear advantage of using Styrofoam over pebbles and gravels is that it is much lighter.

You can easily move the plant without much trouble.

However, you must take care of not using Styrofoam if the plant is meant for edible purposes. Doing so can contaminate the plant and the food produce.

Presentation Mounts

You can use Styrofoam for making stylish and innovative presentation mounts.

Any sharp or pointed object that you plan to use in your crafts can be put against Styrofoam.

It can make the craft safer without the dangers of being hurt. It is better to look for good-sized pieces from big-box packaging.

Homemade Glue

Styrofoam can be used to make a strong glue at your home. You can use it for regular glue application for domestic and official works.

All you need to do is to mix a significant amount of packing peanuts with d-Limonene. The solvent oil in d-Limonene will disintegrate the Styrofoam. It will slowly turn into a sticky substance that has good adhesive properties. It can be used as a permanent glue.

This is a good way to convert a non-eco-friendly material into a useful substance that can be used without any dangers to the environment or side-effects. However, you should be careful while using it and protect your skin, eyes, etc.

Raised Beds for Your Garden

Another useful application of Styrofoam is to use it for raised beds for your garden. You can get large-sized pieces of it from big box appliances for using it for raised garden beds.

Generally, Styrofoam comes with drainage holes which are put during the manufacturing process. If draining holes are not there, then you can use a knife to make it.

You can put it in your garden beds to raise them and sow your plants. It can also be used as decoration or roof decking your garden plants.


You can use Styrofoam for insulation of outbuildings like a dog house, garage, tool shed, etc.

You can cover the windows of your garage during winters with Styrofoam. This helps in achieving greenhouse insulation and will keep the interior of the garage warm and comfortable.

It is essential to understand the properties of Styrofoam before using it for insulation. It is a highly inflammable material and thus should not be used for insulation inside your house.

Styrofoam should be treated with a fire retardant even when it is being used in outbuildings. This will keep your outbuildings safe from fire hazards.

Use it as a Substitute for Perlite

Styrofoam can be used as an effective substitute for perlite.

Perlite is widely used for indoor plantation. It provides good drainage and aeration for growing plants indoors in containers.

However, perlite is expensive, and you can spend a lot on this.

Styrofoam is a suitable and cost-effective alternative that you can consider using.

For using it as perlite substitute, you will need to get the tougher form of Styrofoam. Cut them into small squares of nearly 2cm size. Put them in a blender and add water so that the Styrofoam floats above it. Turn on the blender for one minute. Drain the solution, and you will get a material that is a good perlite substitute.


If you are into fishing, then Styrofoam can be of use to you. It can be used as floaters, buoys, fishing fly holders, etc.

You can use it as a cost-effective alternative. It will save you money on buying such items from the market.

Reuse of Styrofoam in this form can also help you to increase your catch.

If you are not interested in fishing but live close to a fishing community, you can give the Styrofoam to them for use in their fishing expeditions.

Originally published at https://www.ecomasteryproject.com on March 8, 2020.



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