How To Dispose Of Styrofoam The Eco-Friendly Way

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From Styrofoam packing peanuts to takeout containers, Styrofoam has been embedded into society and is a multipurpose lightweight material that is used in all forms of industry. Most individuals never give it a second thought, but its impact of it on the environment is astonishing. Let me explain how to properly dispose of it in an eco-friendly manner.

Disposing of Styrofoam in an eco-friendly manner can be done by recycling (if the option is there), repurposing, or giving it away. Some include giving it to logistics companies, businesses, and schools while using it for soundproofing, insulation, and gardening are great for the home.

In this article, I will go over why everyone should opt to dispose of consider reusing Styrofoam in an eco-friendly manner, what it does to the environment, what the best methods are for getting rid of it, the methods I use, and things that should not be done with it. Read on to see how much of an impact Styrofoam actually has on the environment.

How To Dispose Of Styrofoam

The last thing that the environment needs is to be littered with more unwanted Styrofoam, it is harmful and hazardous not only to the environment but to humans as well.

Luckily, many avenues are available for the disposal and even repurposing of it, which are easy and don’t require a lot of effort or time.

The main methods that are available for eco-friendly Styrofoam disposal are namely;

  • Recycling (if the option is available)
  • Dissolving it in water (if the option is available)
  • Giving it to local businesses
  • Giving it to schools
  • Repurposing it at home

Before I dive into exactly how to go about these strategies, consideration of these methods should be reviewed to realize why it’s best not to throw Styrofoam into a regular trash can.

Why Should Styrofoam Be Disposed Of In An Eco-Friendly Way?

Approximately 30% of an average landfill’s contents is Styrofoam or rather expanded polystyrene foam.

Consider that in 2018 the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reported that over 140 million tons of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) were put into landfills in the United States alone.

If 30% of this content is Styrofoam, then the image it conjures becomes staggering, not to mention that this figure only increases each year due to population growth. 

Styrofoam Is Bad For The Environment

Not only is there an incomprehensible amount of Styrofoam littering the planet worldwide, but it is also terrible for the environment.

Styrene (which is what Styrofoam is made from) is a petroleum-based product which means that it is manufactured using fuels made from crude oil and hydrocarbons (found in natural gas).

Fossil fuel combustion is among the largest ongoing factors responsible for the build-up of carbon in the earth’s biosphere resulting in climate change (Global warming).

Not only that, but due to Styrofoam’s composition, it is one of the only materials that doesn’t decompose, even after hundreds of years. It takes approximately 450 years for polystyrene foam to degrade (decompose). 

Styrofoam Is Hazardous Waste

Besides being harmful to the environment, Styrofoam is actually considered to be a hazardous waste according to the EPA. In 1986, they reported the manufacturing process of polystyrene ranked number five as the largest source of hazardous waste.

Additionally, Styrofoam has been linked to having adverse health effects on marine life and humans and, in 2014, was listed as a possible carcinogen.

How To Dispose Of Styrofoam

Below I have listed and detailed the best methods for disposing of and repurposing Styrofoam in an eco-friendly way (some of which I have used and still do). These great ideas will help keep the environment safe and Styrofoam free.

Put Styrofoam In The Trash

At this point, it should be clear that Styrofoam has a terrible impact on the environment, from its manufacturing process to it taking hundreds of years to decompose.

Putting Styrofoam in the trash should not be considered if these other eco-friendly methods are available, and it should only ever be looked at as a last resort. 

Give Styrofoam To Shipping Businesses

Without a doubt, a large majority of Styrofoam comes in the form of packing peanuts. Major businesses that include logistics companies such as FedEx and UPS will more often than not welcome a drop-off of Styrofoam peanuts.

Remember that these are not the only businesses that need them. Any business dealing with commerce and needs to ship products will typically be willing to take them.

Give Styrofoam To Schools And Day Care Centers

Arts and crafts is a period that all elementary schools, daycare programs, and kindergartens have. Styrofoam plays an important role in artistic potential being used by children to create everything from pencil holders to ornaments, vases, and pictures.

As such, they are always willing to take leftover food and beverage containers; just make sure that the Styrofoam containers are clean and dry before dropping them off.  

Recyclable Styrofoam

Styrofoam, in many cases, is recyclable; however, you cannot put it in your domestic recycling bin. A local recycling center might reject it because it is very difficult to recycle due to its weight and low density.

Specialized equipment is needed in order to compress Styrofoam into a denser material, and your local recycling program simply might not have the right equipment.

However, navigating to Earth911.com, typing in “polystyrene” and a zip code will give the results of the closest drop-off centers that leftover Styrofoam of any kind can be given to. Coincidentally, if the option of recycling Styrofoam is available, this is by far the best method of disposal.

Why Is Styrofoam Not Recyclable?

I touched on the fact that you cannot simply use a recycling bin or even use many recycling plants (Who opt not to recycle Styrofoam due to its composition and density), primarily because it is 95% air. This means that it is not cost-effective for recycling plants to store or ship.

Additionally, in most cases, many styrofoam food containers are contaminated, and due to the fact that it is porous, it isn’t easy to clean. Moreover, many recycling plants (as well as not having the correct equipment to recycle it) do not have the equipment to clean it.

Can Styrofoam Dissolve In Water?

In some cases dissolving packing peanuts made from biodegradable, nontoxic materials (such as wheat and corn starch) is an easy option for eco-friendly Styrofoam disposal.

They will only need to be thrown in a bucket of water or placed in compost piles, where they will start to decompose almost immediately. 

Can You Burn Styrofoam?

Burning Styrofoam to dispose of it is one that should not be considered and is on par as being as bad for the environment as throwing it into the trash. 

What Happens If You Burn Styrofoam?

Research into the burning of Styrofoam has shown that the smoke it releases contains toxic chemicals that will damage the nervous system and lungs of humans.

Disposing Of Styrofoam By Multipurpose Reuse

If the option of recycling or giving Styrofoam is not there, many ways in which it can be repurposed at home are also available. I personally have used these methods in my home with some great results. 

Reuse Styrofoam For Crafts Or DIY Projects

As with giving Styrofoam to elementary schools and kindergartens for arts and craft projects, children at home can use them for the same purpose. This Is a great canvas for children who enjoy being creative like painting, coloring, working with glitter, cutting, gluing, and building. 

Reuse Styrofoam For Insulation

Expanded polystyrene boards are actually sold at hardware stores to be used as insulation in homes. However, by cutting up or grinding Styrofoam into smaller pieces, it is able to be used to fill wall cavities and act as a great source of insulation.

Due to it being mainly composed of air, it is an excellent convector. This means it traps air in its small pockets, reducing and blocking the flow of heat.

Reuse Styrofoam For Soundproofing

Styrofoam can drastically dampen and even cancel out noise when used in conjunction with other denser materials. Thus, it can be used in a home studio, home theatre, lounge, and anywhere else where sufficient sound dampening is required. 

Reuse Styrofoam For Gardening

Styrofoam can be used in almost any of its forms and repurposed for gardening. Using packing peanuts to fill the bottom of pot plants is a great way to save on soil while making the pots light and easier to move.

Besides packing peanuts or leftover pieces of Styrofoam that can be used for the bottom of pot plants, Styrofoam cups can be used as pot plants themselves as well as larger containers that typically are used for the packing of large electronics like TVs. 

Conclusion

Styrofoam, for many reasons, is a hazard to the environment. Opting to recycle or repurpose it is the best disposal method to keep it from ending up in landfills.

Although many recycling plants are unable to recycle Styrofoam, there are ways and means by which this can be done, and this is the best option for disposing of Styrofoam in an eco-friendly manner.

If this option is not available, then sending it to logistics companies, businesses, and schools is great unless the intent for using them around the house is there. 

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About: Mila

Mila is passionate about living sustainability and encouraging others to do the same. Writing about practical steps we can all take to reduce our impact on the environment.