Waste Sleuth Investigates Polystyrene’s Bad Reputation

Polystyrene (PS), commonly known by its brand name Styrofoam, and expanded polystyrene (EPS), often used for packaging, have bad reputations in recycling circles. They are often thought of as unrecyclable and destined for the landfill.

Currently, it is common for PS and EPS not to be accepted for recycling in many communities, while bans have emerged across the country. San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are among cities that have bans on the use of polystyrene. In Washington, D.C., the ban will go into effect after January 2016, and a similar ban is being introduced for consideration in Montgomery County, MD.

To help clarify misconceptions about this misunderstood material, Todd Sutton, Great Forest’s consultant in San Francisco, recently did some investigating into recycling PS and EPS, in partnership with Dart Container Corp. and Moore Recycling Associates.

In the video report, Sutton, as the Waste Sleuth, visits Burrtec’s West Valley MRF in Fontana, CA, and Titus MRF Services in Los Angeles. Both have different, but equally effective approaches to processing the light-as-air polystyrene, and say the material can be collected and recycled in the same way as other plastics.

According to the report, the demand for reclaimed polystyrene exceeds the supply.

“We think that polystyrene’s bad rep is likely to change as more communities become aware of the possibilities of recycling this material, especially those that are shy of bans but still want to have increased diversion programs,” says Sutton.

PS  and EPS recycling is an emerging idea right now and only time will tell if it catches on.

2013 EPS Recycling Rate Report from the EPS Industry Alliance shows that “over 127 million pounds of EPS were recycled in 2013, including 72.8 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 54.5 million pounds of post-industrial packaging. Over the past decade EPS has achieved an average recycling rate of 15%, one of the highest of the plastics family.”

Check your local government resources or ask your sustainability consultant if you can recycle PS and EPS in your area. You can also see if a drop off location for recycling EPS packaging exists in your area.

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