Polystyrene (otherwise known by the brand name of Styrofoam) is one of the largest global contributors to landfill waste. In order to reduce waste and ensure that polystyrene is recycled or, at a minimum, ends up in the right place, it’s important to know how you can recycle and dispose of Styrofoam and polystyrene.
Are Polystyrene and Styrofoam the Same Thing?
Yes (and no).
Polystyrene is a type of foam known as Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). It’s made primarily for packaging and is used in just about every application that you can imagine. Styrofoam, on the other hand, is a brand name for a specific type of polystyrene made by one manufacturer.
Though often used interchangeably (just like how most of us refer to cling wrap as “Glad Wrap”), it should be noted that not every polystyrene product falls into the category of being labelled "Styrofoam".
Both materials follow similar principles when it comes to recycling and disposal procedures due to their shared material base. Furthermore, polystyrene products include widely used packaging materials especially those involved with food items or deliveries among other applications.
What Kinds of Products Use Polystyrene?
Polystyrene is used in just about every type of packaging material that you could imagine. From food to household goods and bulky items, it’s a popular choice because it’s cheap, lightweight, and reliable.
Some of the most common places where you can expect to find polystyrene include:
- Packaging materials
- Insulation products
- Food packaging
- Food containers and tableware
- Egg cartons (although this is diminishing)
- Helmets (motorbike and push bike)
- Swimming flotation devices and structures
- Disposable medical products
Despite the environmental concerns related to polystyrene use, demand shows no signs of slowing down primarily because of the increasing trend towards online shopping.
Can you Recycle Polystyrene and Styrofoam in Australia?
Polystyrene cannot be recycled from your kerbside residential recycling bin. While some councils offer special pickup services for polystyrene packaging, you can’t put it in your normal recycling bin.
If you’ve ever walked past bins on collection morning only to see polystyrene packaging products sitting on the side of the road, then you’re seeing the result of improper disposal firsthand.
You can dispose of polystyrene and Styrofoam in your household rubbish bin, but it will not be recycled. Polystyrene that ends up in your rubbish will invariably contribute to our landfill – so try to avoid it.
How Can I Correctly Dispose of Polystyrene and Styrofoam?
Never place polystyrene or Styrofoam products in your household recycling bin (the one with the yellow lid). Polystyrene should be securely placed and sealed in a bag before being disposed of in your red bin.
Remember: Polystyrene that ends up in your red lid household waste bin will not be recycled.
For residential addresses dealing with a small amount of polystyrene, then placing it in your rubbish bin may be an option (although not a great choice for the environment). For residential disposal, it’s essential that you secure polystyrene before disposing. Given how light it is, there is a good chance that unsecured polystyrene will end up being blown away before it can be connected.
Businesses that handle a large quantity of packaging materials should be using a waste disposal company that can help with removing and recycling polystyrene. Stuffing it in your garbage bin isn’t a great look for any business – so it’s important that you do your part to correctly recycle polystyrene packaging waste.
How are Polystyrene and Styrofoam Products Different from Other Waste?
Polystyrene and Styrofoam and other Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) are problematic because they can take hundreds of years to break down in landfill. Not only does it take hundreds of years to break down at landfill, there’s also a chance that it will be taken by the wind and end up in our oceans and waterways.
Despite the fact that EPS products are made up of 98% air, the latest estimates indicate that polystyrene products take up around 25-30% of space in our landfills. It’s also estimated that somewhere between 60-80% of all marine litter comes from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) products.
What Happens When Styrofoam is Not Recycled Properly?
Polystyrene that ends up in your red lidded household rubbish bin will contribute to local landfills. Polystyrene is not biodegradable. The continued production of these EPS products is a serious environmental concern and one that is likely to face mounting scrutiny in the coming years given our love affair with online shopping continues to drive consumption.
Despite the fact that food products using polystyrene and Styrofoam will often have a recycling symbol on the packaging, EPS products are extremely complex to recycle. Unlike glass or cardboard, it’s hard to revert polystyrene to its base form.
The known environmental impact of polystyrene waste isn’t a recent revelation. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report all the way back in 1986 that cited the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest source of hazardous waste. However, In spite of this, widespread usage of the products continues.
Plastics and other compostable materials provide viable alternatives to Styrofoam. To mitigate the impacts of these products, it’s important to reuse where possible or opt for alternatives (particularly for commercial consumers).
The benefits and complexities of recycling polystyrene are just one example of the issues faced as we look at ways that we can cut down on consumption and protect our environment. Given the widespread use of polystyrene, Styrofoam, and other EPA products, it can be hard to see where to start.
As individuals, we can make better choices about how we dispose of polystyrene. At a minimum, correctly packaging polystyrene to ensure it does not blow away before it can be collected. With a little more effort, individuals can recycle polystyrene products through an authorised drop-off point or a rubbish removal and recycling company like Ridly Rubbish Removal . For commercial parties, it’s important to look at ways to cut down on polystyrene packaging use, as well as having a regular recycling plan in place.