Recycling Tip: Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

If Styrofoam cups could be recycled, would disposable products be less of an environmental problem? Many people spot the 6 in the triangle on the bottom of a Styrofoam cup and assume it can be recycled—but it’s not quite that simple.

What is Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a brand of polystyrene plastics. Polystyrene sits in landfills indefinitely; it is estimated that it takes at least 500 years for Styrofoam products to decompose. It was also described by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Recycling Polystyrene

There is some good news: It is technically possible to recycle polystyrene products. The problem is that the process is something called “closed loop recycling,” meaning that polystyrene products cannot be recycled to make other polystyrene products. The quality of the recycled plastic is significantly lower and there is not a high demand for it. Because of this, a majority of the recycling plants do not accept polystyrene products. So even though you can theoretically recycle a Styrofoam cup in some circumstances, it’s not a good idea to use it in the first place.

If you do have some polystyrene products to recycle, I suggest you check out Earth 911 to see if there’s a place near you that accepts this type of plastic.

What other options are there?

Reusable is always the best option, but paper products would probably be a better option than polystyrene. And if you are using plastics, look for a compostable type.

As a bonus, I thought I’d be a dork and share a couple of lines from a song that I think about every time I hear the word “Styrofoam.” I believe it was on a TV show I watched as a kid. Possibly.

Styrofoam is bad it lasts a thousand years,

Once a packing peanut is born it never disappears

(“Good Garbage” by Tom Chapin)


You can read more about Styrofoam here.

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