It’s Time to Talk Polystyrene Foam Recycling

Many people still think that polystyrene can’t be recycled. Polystyrene foam is often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam, which is actually a trademarked name of the Dow Chemical Company, cannot be recycled. However, that belief is outdated seeing as expanded polystyrene, or EPS, waste is being successfully recycled at both the consumer and industrial levels across the United States.

Many politicians seem to think a foam ban is the right answer, but extensive research and efforts to the contrary suggest that a Wyoming foam ban, for example, would cost the business owners more than its worth and wouldn’t make a significant difference over recycling the material.

Post-consumer and post-commercial recycling is defined as a material which is recycled after it’s has served its intended use. Post-industrial recovery includes scraps from EPS facility which was never used for its proposed purpose. In just 2013 over 125 million pounds of expanded polystyrene was recycled across the country. That included over 72 million pounds of post-consumer and post-commercial EPS material as well as over 54 million pounds that were post-industrial recovered.

Universities like Pennsylvania State are typically on the leading edge of the most significant trends in science and Penn State offers their students the opportunity to help with recycling EPS. As with most schools, Penn-State students have the on-campus dining option of using polystyrene products, but what Pennsylvania State University does differently is the school recycles their EPS waste so it can be made into new items such as construction supplies, pens and picture frames.

Penn State’s efforts in recycling the EPS food-service materials are coordinated with the Dart Container Corporation. Called the Penn State Recycling and Waste Management Team, students collect EPS foam from campus cafeterias and, after the EPS is densified, send it to Dart Container to be resold to companies across the globe to make new products. Penn State’s polystyrene foam recycling is a step in the right direction and their efforts to help limit the EPS waste that ends up in landfills is a program other communities should take to heart.

The Facts on Expanded Polystyrene

  • Expanded polystyrene is an inert material that is 98 percent air. It contains no harmful chemicals that produce any gases or leach into the environment during or after use.
  • Expanded polystyrene is broadly recognized as a food-safe choice for packaging by the U.S. EPA and other government-regulatory agencies around the world.
  • Innovations in EPS production technologies guarantee minimized energy consumption with manufacturing processes which recycles most of the water used in manufacturing.
  • Bulk EPS feedstock produces over 30 times its original volume in finished products, creating products made virtually from air that are strong and highly efficient.
  • If all packaging materials made of expanded polystyrene were replaced with paper, cardboard and wood it would require almost six times more raw materials, over double the power consumption and produce almost twice the waste material.