Styrofoam Recycling

Styrofoam Recycling

Styrofoam Recycling

GreenCitizen accepts Styrofoam for recycling at our Burlingame EcoCenter. We charge $5 per 30 gallon bag. This fee helps cover our logistic and processing costs, as well as the cost of the Styrofoam Condenser itself.

We can only accept clean white Styrofoam that is EPS (expanded polystyrene) or XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) number 6. Colored, food contaminated, or dirty Styrofoam is NOT ACCEPTED. If you’re a business we can even pick up electronics and Styrofoam directly from your office.

What We’ll do With It

Figure 1: A GreenCitizen staff member processing some Styrofoam

How do we recycle your Styrofoam? First, some background information. Technically, Styrofoam is the trademarked, extruded, closed-cell polystyrene foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company, but the word “Styrofoam” informally refers to various polystyrene foam products (like how we use the word “Kleenex” informally to refer to tissues).

EPS is rigid, closed cell foam often found in packaging and take away containers. XPS is slightly denser and rougher but has similar uses. Environmentally, Styrofoam is one of the most frustrating materials we encounter. It takes several hundred years for a Styrofoam food container to biodegrade, and it shows significant resistance to photolysis (for reference, it takes organic material like a banana peel only 2 months). Most recyclers will not accept Styrofoam as its low density makes it cost inefficient to recycle. Throwing it in a landfill is obviously not environmentally responsible as Styrofoam takes up significant space. Styrofoam is also infamous for breaking up into pieces, which can fatally harm mammals or fish that ingest them.

Figure 2: Crown Molding

The best course of action is to avoid buying products with Styrofoam packaging, or items online that must be packaged and shipped to you. Biodegradable packaging materials are becoming more readily available (check out this New Yorker article to see how fungus might become the answer); nevertheless Styrofoam use continues apace. Therefore for now, accumulating some Styrofoam seems inevitable.

What will we do with Styrofoam once you recycle it with us? Well here at GreenCitizen, we purchased a Styrofoam condensing machine. We feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which condenses it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume.

The dense polystyrene product emerging from our machine becomes a recyclable commodity for producers of recycled plastic pellets. These pellets can then be reused for insulation sheets and other construction applications. It can also be turned into clothes hangers, jewel cases, public benches, pots, toys, picture frames, surfboard foam and crown moulding around ceilings. So come to our Burlingame EcoCenter to take a close look at some condensed Styrofoam, and recycle yours to keep it out of the landfill. Thank you so much for doing your part!