Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Styrofoam Recycling in San Francisco

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Updated August 2018

Can you recycle Styrofoam? Yes and you should! In fact, GreenCitizen conveniently offers Styrofoam recycling for San Francisco Bay Area residents and businesses at our Burlingame EcoCenter.

With coffee cups, packing peanuts, building insulation, and takeout boxes, you may be wondering if Styrofoam is as bad as they say. Unfortunately, this lightweight material packs a heavy punch against the environment.

Why Styrofoam is Bad

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified styrene, the material that makes up Styrofoam, as a possible human carcinogen.
  • It takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose. Every day, about 1369 tons of it ends up in a landfill.
  • When heated, Styrofoam releases toxic chemical which can hurt our health. In other words, reheating your restaurant leftovers in a microwave isn’t a good idea!
  • Sunlight exposure causes Styrofoam to create air pollutants that harm landfills and the ozone layer.
  • Styrofoam breaks into smaller pieces, which can become a choking hazard for scavenging animals in landfills.

Now that you know a little more about the detrimental effects of Styrofoam, we’re sure you want to recycle as much as you can. Keep in mind that we can only recycle Styrofoam that is white, clean, and unmarked, called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). Luckily, this foam is 100% recyclable.

What is EPS Foam?

Technically, Styrofoam is the trademarked insulation foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company, but the word “styrofoam” usually refers to expanded polystyrene foam (like how we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all brands of tissues).

EPS is a rigid foam often found in packaging and take-away containers. It’s one of the most frustrating materials we encounter. It takes more than 500 years for a Styrofoam food container to decompose and is often not cost effective, meaning recyclers lose money. So, the best course of action is to avoid buying products with EPS packaging, which includes online purchases. Fortunately, some companies now offer biodegradable solutions to help lessen Styrofoam’s toxic impact.

How to recycle Styrofoam

Figure 2: Florian Recycling some Styrofoam

How Does Styrofoam Recycling Work?

For now, accumulating some Styrofoam is almost inevitable, so we all have to do our parts and recycle what we can. Bring your EPS foam to GreenCitizen, where we have a handy Styrofoam condensing machine (see figure 2). We feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which condenses it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume. It then slowly spits it out, like frozen yogurt. This tube of condensed foam helps make items like surfboards, cameras, jewelry cases, coat hangers, and ceiling molding (see figure 3). The Styrofoam you drop off is being reused and not taking up space in a landfill for the next five centuries. Visit our Burlingame EcoCenter and you can take a look at some condensed Styrofoam!

Ceiling-Molding

Figure 3: Ceiling Molding

Come by and drop off your EPS foam at any time. We charge $5 per 30 gallon bag. That’s a lot of Styrofoam! (see figure 4). We’ll also take your old electronics for recycling. We can even pick up your electronics and Styrofoam right from your office building!

Thank you so much for doing your part. GreenCitizen is proud to provide you with hassle-free Styrofoam recycling!

Figure 4: Roughly 60 Gallons of Styrofoam recycled at GreenCitizen

Figure 4: Roughly 60 Gallons of Styrofoam recycled at GreenCitizen

16 Comments on “Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Styrofoam Recycling in San Francisco

  1. Tim Pratt

    RE/2013 May May 22 Jake Hanft article: where do you get the “1000 years” figure for decomposition of EPS (reference)? Perhaps when it is buried in a landfill and protected from sun, water, air and surface microorganisms.

    Also, what “ceiling moulding” company do you sell to; is it Timbron (Stockton)? Certainly food contamination isn’t an issue for them, although EXTRUDED-PS might not be so compatable with rigid EPS mix. Have you looked into lightweight concrete (air entrainment) uses. We must have companies that do this in California. Related to that is making of internal forms for concrete and stucco building. OK if these last 1000 years and they should be able re-blow any type of PS (expanded or not) for this purpose; solid (clear), EPS, XPS and “loose fill peanuts”. Why not?

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  6. Christiane

    This information was a great find, thanks for your imput.

  7. shankar

    i am from bengaluru, india. I am impressed by the initiatives to make San Fransisco zero waste city by 2020(?) by all. I am involved in efforts to make my city clean and polluton free. Incidentally, Bengaluru is clubbed with SF in a sister city initiative with the intention of co-0peration in many fields, cleanliness being just one.
    Styrofoam, as in all cities is a nuisance waste occupying space in waste transport vehicles as also land fill. You mention that you have acquired a machine to process EPS. Can you please tell me who supplies the equipment so that I can try to acquire one for my city.

    thank you in advance

    shankar

  8. Deborah

    I live in an area where styrofoam is not accepted by the recyclers who handle curbside pickup. I realize that my suggestion does not solve the long-term issuevproblem of what to with packing matetisls but I take the foam peanuts and air-filled packets to my local shipping store to reuse.

  9. Susan

    Do you recycle large pieces that were the core of a spa cover?

    • Mallory Morales

      Hi Susan,

      We can accept clean, white #6 styrofoam for recycling.

  10. ALEX BELYAVSKI

    WE HAVE SOLID STYROFOAM BEING ACCUMULATED ; AND WE ALSO HAVE
    SOME “POPCORN” STYROFOAM;

    NORMALLY WE JUST BRING IT TO THE DUMPSTER; IT IS EXPENSIVE;

    HOW TO DO IT LESS EXPENSIVE?

    • Sandra

      UPS will take popcorn styrofoam for free. I separate it (styrofoam from biodegradable) and UPS has always taken it.

  11. Jermaine

    Do you have a pick up service?

  12. James Kao

    Hi Jermaine,

    Yes, we do offer a Styrofoam pickup service! There will be a $200 pickup fee, plus $50 for every gaylord (48 x 40 x 36″ cardboard container) of Styrofoam. To lower the pickup fee, you may add qualifying items for recycling. Please go here to schedule a pickup: https://www.greencitizen.com/business_pickup_form.php

  13. Ted Tolentino

    Greetings, I live in Oklahoma City and I wish it were economical here to recycle “styrofoam” in all the varieties of ways it comes, e.g. packing material, disposable plates and cups. What I think may be germane to the discussion of disposal of these nusance materials is for governments to charge a disposal fee, much like we do for tires, and at one time glass bottles and aluminum cans. As much as we find it distasteful to be “taxed” every which way we turn, it may be the only solution to curbing the amount of waste we generate every day. The government money could be spent on supporting innovations in waste recycling.

  14. Victor Monette

    WELL IF IT RECYCLABLE WHY IS IT SO EXPENSIVE TO RECYCLE IT AND SO FAR?

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