Styrofoam USE in the USA

Styrofoam® is a type of plastic product made from oil. Styrofoam® chemically is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and is also known as plastic #6. It is owned and manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company. It is used as disposal products (for take outs etc.), packing peanuts, and sometimes as an insulator for other larger products. According to this educative video[1], Styrofoam as a material has endless creative and commercial uses and is therefore so prevalent in our society today.

EPS foam (i.e. Styrofoam) is more than 95% air and only about 5% plastic[2]. From a recycling standpoint, because it’s so lightweight, it takes up 0.01 % of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight but a much larger volume. Because of the amount of space it takes up in landfills and its ubiquitous nature, most municipalities don’t accept Styrofoam for recycling.

It is however technically recyclable but this mostly happens by providing consumers drop off recycling points from where it’s collected and processed. For example, Dart containers are a major supplier of Styrofoam products in the state of Michigan. Dart provides recycling centers[3] throughout the state for recycling all Styrofoam containers. In fact, sites like Earth911.com[4] help find polystyrene recycling for pretty much anywhere in the country.  But before going to any listed local recycling sites it’s a good idea to call and check because most accept packing materials but not food or medical containers because of possible contamination.

There is some progress being made in addressing this issue. For example, food packaging Styrofoam served at restaurants is slowly but surely reducing with many environmentally friendly alternatives being offered now. Styrofoam in the form of packaging peanut can be taken to the local UPS, Mailboxes etc. If required, the automated, 24-hour Peanut Hot line at 800-828-2214 will help locate a nearby site that will reuse them. Most gladly accept the peanuts for re-use because it keeps down their materials costs. Thus, even though Styrofoam recycling may not be in our control, using less Styrofoam is definitely something all of us can work towards and be in control of.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6OVD_2xliM from Discovery Channel
[2] http://composite.about.com/od/distfoams/a/What-Is-Eps-Expanded-Polystyrene.htm
[3] https://www.dartcontainer.com/environment/michigan-county-recycling/
[4] http://www.earth911.com/home/family/recycling-mysteries-styrofoam/

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