Updated on 03/17/2019
Dear Recyclebank: We like to recycle everything possible. So, can "Styrofoam" be recycled?
Dear Charles: It's uncommon for waste haulers to accept foamed polystyrene, or EPS, which is commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as "Styrofoam".
Foamed polystyrene (EPS) is marked as plastic #6 on container items like foam cups and take-out boxes. Some MRFs take #6 plastic in its un-foamed form, but be sure to check with your hauler first before putting any of these #6 hard-plastic containers in your recycle bin. As far as foamed #6 plastic cups and containers go, you're best off avoiding them whenever possible since they are rarely accepted for recycling.
Fun Fact: The trademarked name Styrofoam, owned by The Dow Chemical Company, actually refers to a unique kind of polystyrene, which is extruded instead of expanded. Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is designed to be used in building materials and is not found in consumer foam cups or take-out containers.
But many people still use the name to refer to expanded polystyrene (EPS). EPS has gained a notoriously bad environmental reputation because very few recycling programs accept it, and it can sit in landfills for centuries (just like all other plastics that end up in landfills) — facts that are especially problematic when Americans throw away millions of polystyrene cups every year. Some cities, including New York City, have voted to ban polystyrene containers, and more are considering similar bans.
Check online to see if you live near one of the few facilities that do accept expanded polystyrene for recycling. If you do, make sure your materials are clean and dry before dropping them off.
If your polystyrene is in the form of packing material (like packing peanuts), you may be able to drop them off at certain shipping retail locations for reuse. You could also reuse the packing peanuts yourself next time you ship something. When it comes to expanded polystyrene foam, try to avoid it in the first place!