How to Recycle Styrofoam (Polystyrene)

poster on Recycling Styrofoam | Sustainable Investment Group
This eco-friendly poster was part of a recycling campaign at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs, GA

A common misconception is that Styrofoam is the same thing as polystyrene. However, they are two different items, sort of. The foam like product is a trademark brand of extruded polystyrene foam presently constructed for craft applications and thermal insulation. It is owned and manufactured by Dow Chemical Company.

Somehow the word Styrofoam got misconstrued. It is often mistakenly referred to expanded (not extruded) polystyrene foam like disposable coffee cups, coolers and cushion material in packaging. These products are generally white and made of expanded polystyrene beads.

Now polystyrene is one of the most common forms of plastic. It is often used to make egg cartons, take-out coffee cups and cushions for shipping packages. Although both plastics are extremely versatile, they are not always easy to recycle.


Polystyrene is used for many products because it has lightweight features, but the light material is hard to collect from curbside containers because it often blows away. In addition, polystyrene is quite bulky and difficult to transport which increases the cost. Moreover, numerous municipal recycle companies do not accept polystyrene. On the other hand, there are a handful of cities such as Toronto and Los Angeles that do recycle polystyrene.

The Environment

On the negative side, polystyrene is made from petroleum. It also contains benzene (a known human carcinogen) and is highly flammable.

Moreover, polystyrene takes an incredible time to break down. In the meantime, animals may consume the product which can cause blockages in their digestive tracts and thus cause starvation.

Now polystyrene is known to contain toxic substances and is often used for packaging foods like meat and some vegetables. And because the packaging has direct contact with the food, nearly 24 US cities have banned the use of polystyrene.

Burning Polystyrene

In honesty, it is not advisable to burn polystyrene. This is because it releases styrene gas when burned which can greatly affect the nervous system. As well, the sooty flame implies that combustion is not finished. The mixture of combustible material and the ability to produce toxic chemicals at relative low temperatures is a very unsafe combo.

Tips on Recycling

Recycling plastics in small quantities is generally not very practical. Most municipal recycling companies do not take plastics. However, there are a few warehouse type companies that accept plastics for recycling.

What you can do is make your company more eco friendly by offering a recycle bin for plastics and other items like glass and paper. An individual can also promote environmental stewardship by bringing their own containers to the office cafeteria.

There are also better alternatives than using Styrofoam or polystyrene. In fact, you can find many products that are biodegradable as well as sustainable. And when it comes to comparing costs, Eco friendly options are becoming less expensive. In fact, many are more cost effective than their counterparts. For example, a package of fifty 10 ounce biodegradable hot cups costs about $5.50. For the same number of 10 ounce polystyrene cups, the cost is $9.99.

Sustainable Resources

Sustainable solutions can be attained through the combined efforts and support of similar companies. One of the main reasons Sustainable Investment Group was founded was to promote practices that lead to a sustainable, healthy, and bright future. When first established, we offered sustainability services and education to the building and real estate industry.

Today, we (Sustainable Investment Group) have greatly expanded and provide Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) consulting, LEED Exam Prep Training, Green Building Consulting and Technical services from our offices in Atlanta, GA; Boulder, CO; New York, NY; and Minneapolis, MN.

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