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Ways to Recycle Styrofoam

written by: Laura Jean Karr•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 11/16/2010

Styrofoam (polystyrene) is a non-biodegradable material that is not recyclable through mainstream programs. Find out how to recycle styrofoam at home.

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    What is Styrofoam?

    Styrofoam is a brand name for an extruded polystyrene foam. Polystyrene is a form of liquid hydrocarbon that is derived from petroleum. Because of the chemical composition of polystyrene it is a difficult product to recycle and costs enough to recycle, that it creates a negative value where community recycling centers wouldn't make a profit even if they did try to recycle it.

    For more information on recycling items for a greener lifestyle, check out How to Teach Kids to Recycle and Recycle Styrofoam: Make Your Own Glue.

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    Recycle Styrofoam by Type

    packing peanuts It is important to know that if you do put polystyrene products into your local recycling bins it is the same as just throwing it in the regular garbage because it will still end up in a landfill. So, how do you go about recycling polystyrene products if the community programs won't take it? Well, there are various ways to recycle this material and it depends on the type that you are looking to recycle.

    Packing Peanuts

    For instance, if you have a bunch of polystyrene packing peanuts you can contact your local UPS and they will take them to reuse. In order to find a UPS store near you, visit their store locater at: Find Locations. The molded polystyrene packaging, the kind that fits items in so sung that sometimes it is hard to get out of the box can also be recycled but not locally. Through the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers you can send them your molded polystyrene packaging and they will take it in. Learn more about how to mail in your molded EPS (expanded polystyrene) through their main web site at:

    Food Containers

    Beyond the polystyrene that is used for packaging, there is a large amount that is used for food type packaging. Here are just some ofstyrofoam containers  the items made from polystyrene that are not recycled locally: coffee cups, soup bowls, salad boxes, plates, trays, takeout containers, meat trays and egg cartons. Polystyrene used for food containers is very hard to recycle because the food contaminates the material. Due to the problem of recycling this material, may states have placed a ban on the use of these type of containers from restaurants.

    In order for you to recycle this form of polystyrene, you'll need to do it at home. Here are some ways that people have developed to recycle the food related polystyrene containers:

    • Cut the containers up and put them in the soil when you pot plants
    • Cut the egg cartons up and use them to germinate seeds
    • Wash it and use it as insulation for sheds or other projects
    • Wash the containers and decorate them as storage helpers are the house
    • Create crafts from them such as ornaments
    • Wash them and donate them to your local Boys & Girls clubs or schools for arts & crafts
    • Donate the egg cartons to your local chicken farmer for reuse

    *images used are royalty free stock