Styrofoam is a trademark of the Dow company and a product made of plastic. As a plastic, Styrofoam is widely used in many products we use every day, but unfortunately it is one of the hardest plastics to recycle. The best way to protect the environment from the effects of Styrofoam waste is to stop using it. That, however, is something the world is not yet ready to do. Therefore, the efforts to recycle Styrofoam are very important.
What Is Styrofoam
About 98 percent of Styrofoam you hold in your hand is actually air. Besides air, Styrofoam is made of oil creating a plastic called polystyrene that has the resin identification code of 6 printed on the bottom of every polystyrene product. It is used in many products you use every day and it is very hard to recycle because many recycling facilities do not accept polystyrene plastic products.
Styrofoam is used in a variety of items. If you have ever ordered take-out food or drinks, the containers and cups holding them and keeping them either hot or cold are made from polystyrene. In addition, many food items, such as meat, fish and other seafood, are stored on polystyrene trays in grocery store. Styrofoam is also a common packing material in the form of packing peanuts, an insulation material in homes and padding material in many helmets, such as bicycle and motorcycle helmets.
Because Styrofoam is a plastic product, manufacturing new Styrofoam products uses non-renewable fossil fuel resources. As a plastic, it also degrades slowly and is highly flammable. Marine life, such as marine mammals, marine birds and turtles, also mistake Styrofoam as food and then die for either starvation or choke when they swallow pieces of it. Styrofoam is lightweight, it is only 0.01 percent of our solid household waste, but the volume of Styrofoam going to our landfills causes it to fill landfills with a product that lasts for centuries.
In 2006, 56 million pounds of Styrofoam were recycled. This is about 10 to 12 percent of the Styrofoam used every year. The biggest problem with Styrofoam recycling is the fact that not many recycling programs or centers accept Styrofoam. Because of this, you might need to find other ways to recycle your polystyrene. Contact your recycling program or center to check if they accept polystyrene or check Earth911.com Web site to find a Styrofoam recycling facility in your area. Even if you have a drop-off site in your community, many of them only recycle peanut packing materials.
If your community does not have a drop-off site, you can use a mail-back program, and literally mail your packing peanuts to be recycled. One of the programs in the United States is called Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. Another option is to donate your packing peanuts to UPS or other shipping stores. Call the Peanut Hot line at 800-828-2214 to find a store near you accepting peanut donations. New technologies are also emerging to make polystyrene recycling easier. One of the most promising inventions is biodegradable Styrofoam that is made from plant-based materials instead of plastic. These plant-based Styrofoams decompose in landfills or they can be used as fertilizers for your lawn. Request stores to switch to these more environmentally friendly Styrofoam options.
Reusage of Styrofoam
If you have Styrofoam packing peanuts, reuse them when you send a package to someone. You can break bigger pieces into smaller ones and store them in a plastic bag. If you have no use for Styrofoam or packing peanuts, you can also give them to your friends or family who send packages or sell things online. In addition, you can take them to a craft store where people can use them for their craft projects or use Styrofoam in your garden in pot plants to help drainage or to filter water.
About the Author
Eija Rissanen is a freelance journalist living in Hawaii. She has a journalism and environmental studies degree from Hawaii Pacific University. Her articles have been published in Kalamalama, the student newspaper of Hawaii Pacific University, and some other environmental and travel publications and Web sites in Europe and the United States.