When this light and tough packing material was invented by Dow Chemicals, everyone thought that their packing worries were over. After all, it was very inexpensive and easy to produce.
However, for a product that is 95 percent air, it can create a tremendous burden on an already overburdened environment.
This has a lot to do with its manufacturing process that discharges a lot of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases that are extremely harmful to the environment.
CFCs are directly responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer and they are released in large quantities when Styrofoam is burned in a landfill.
This is why it is so important to ensure that all Styrofoam products are safely disposed of in a manner that is not detrimental to the environment.
Let us see how you can dispose of your Styrofoam products as safely and easily as possible.
Remove All the Recyclable Parts From Your Styrofoam Container
Carefully go through the Styrofoam for any residual paper, cardboard, or glass pieces. Remove them from the Styrofoam packing for safe disposal later.
You can take them to your local recycling center once you are done with the Styrofoam.
You should break the Styrofoam into small bits and pieces so that you will be able to carry them easily. While they are not heavy items, they can be pretty bulky. If you have some really large Styrofoam blocks or sheets, it would be a good idea to cut them into smaller cubes and pieces.
This way, they will fit easily into a conventional trash bag and you will be able to fit them all in the same bag easily.
You can, of course, throw the pieces into the bin, but that is not recommended since it is a recyclable material.
Recycling the Styrofoam
Not all types of Styrofoam can be recycled, and you have to figure out if the packing you have comes into this category or it must be trashed.
As a general rule, only plain white packing foam can be recycled. Dyed and colored foam is not accepted due to its carcinogenic properties.
It is always best to look for a recycling emblem on the Styrofoam container before trying to hand it over to your closest recycling center.
The triple arrow triangle would be easily visible on the top of the container and the number 6 will be stamped on the inner side of the packing material.
These two signs denote the fact that the foam can easily be turned into plastic and converted into everyday items such as boxes and even picture frames for subsequent reuse.
Here, it is pertinent to note that almost all Styrofoam-based food containers such as cups and plates are considered to be trash because of food contamination.
The same condition is even more stringently applied to foam that has been earmarked for use for medical purposes.
Even if the items appear to be fresh and have a prominently displayed recycling triangle, they must still be disposed of in a polyethylene thrash bag because of the danger of contamination from possible biohazards.
Also read: Is Cork Biodegradable?
Get in Touch With the Contact Centers
You should try and get in touch with the local recycling program in your community for any information on Styrofoam drop-offs.
It is not a very common practice anymore, but there are still a few waste disposal authorities that tend to accept clean foam food trays as well as colored foam egg cartons.
However, it is always best to ask first to save yourself a trip lugging bulky foam products to the center.
There might be multiple drop-off centers in your area that will gladly take your unwanted foam and recycle it or dispose of it properly.
However, before you hand over anything, you should be sure of the following:
- All of your containers must be totally clean and empty. You should remove any labels, staple pins, tape, and plastic film before handing them over.
- If your maximum quantity exceeds the limit at that specific center, you might have to pay a small fee for leaving the packing at the center. However, you should only worry about it if you have at least a full truck’s worth of recyclable foam.
Alternately, you can also mail your foam to the centers in case you don’t have any local options available. EPS-IA’s website contains a whole list of mail-in options.
You will have to cover the shipping cost, but it won’t amount to much if your foam is not too large and bulky.
You can make sure that the cost remains as low as possible by removing all the debris and breaking the foam into small pieces that may be placed into a shipping box or bag for onward shipment to the recycling facility.
Shipping and Packing Peanuts Can Be Used for Future Shipments
Small pieces of Styrofoam are known as packing peanuts and they are used extensively because they are very good at what they do i.e. protecting expensive and delicate items during transit.
If you have decided to mail the packages instead of personally lugging them to the site, it is a good idea to send over the foam peanuts you have.
You can even give them to the local shipping store, and they would be glad to have them for their future packing needs.
You Can Recycle the Foam Yourself
Packing foam makes great do-it-yourself (DIY) material and it can be widely used for decorations and costumes. In fact, you can use it to create props, sets, or crafts.
It is an ideal raw material for these purposes because it is very lightweight and can be used to create templates for a wide variety of desired shapes that you can cut out and use.
You may use paint and poster colors to give the finishing touches to your very low-cost but very sturdy props and other stage backgrounds.
For example, you can make a very pretty magic wand by cutting out a perfect star shape. You have to make a hole in the bottom of the star and squeeze some quick setting glue into the hole.
Finally, you should slide in a wooden handle to create your fairy wand.
Also read: Are Packing Peanuts Recyclable?
Decorations, Furniture, and Other Uses
You can make Christmas decorations for your Christmas tree as well and create snowy white igloos to go with your snowman during the holiday season.
With a bit of time and effort, you can repurpose your Styrofoam into something totally new to furnish your space.
For example, if you really work at it, you might be able to build a really beautiful and sturdy garden statue or cut up the pieces that you can later stuff as filling material for your beanbag chair.
And that is not all. In fact, you can make countless seasonal decorations with the help of embellished pieces of home recycled Styrofoam.
These can include gingerbread houses as well as Halloween decorations. You don’t have to create a jack-o-lantern from a pumpkin if you have some Styrofoam lying around.
Recycling foam is not just restricted to decorations and furniture filling alone. On the contrary, you can also use small but solid blocks of Styrofoam and thermocol to create free seedling starters for your potted plants since they will be able to retain their shape even after being immersed in muddy water.
Pieces of Styrofoam are now also being used as fillers for fake plants at the office. Just drop in small pieces of Styrofoam into the pot and place the plant firmly into the filling.
Finally, you can garnish it with marble chips to create a consistent white finish. Best of all, you won’t even have to color it since Styrofoam’s natural shade is already white.
A Few Precautions
You have to make sure that you do not try to recycle soiled food containers. The foam may not be biodegradable, but the food they had contained is organic and it will rot and start smelling over time.
This means that anything you use it for will inevitably suffer the same fate.
If you absolutely must use food containers, the least you can do is to wash them properly with a strong detergent to ensure that they are perfectly safe for subsequent use.
The above methods for disposal and recycling of Styrofoam material can go a long way in taking care of our environment.
That said, you have to be very careful to safely dispose of any hospital Styrofoam waste. You should never attempt to reuse foam that has already been used for medical purposes.
Additionally, you should make it a point to always use gloves when handling it.
Moreover, whenever you’re trying to dispose of Styrofoam that has been used for medical purposes, you should place it in a clear bag and label it clearly as medical waste before disposing it into the trash can.
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