Commercial recycling of EPS provides a lot of benefits, both economic and environmental.
Economic Benefits of Recycling Styrofoam
Polystyrene foam is about 95% air. This same characteristic that makes EPS so lightweight and a great choice for packaging and other applications, makes handling the waste much more difficult. Before disposal, EPS waste is very bulky and wastes warehouse space. Transporting uncompacted waste EPS is expensive because of the bulk. A lot of EPS waste is sent to landfills without being compacted, which is a serious waste of resources. Disposal fees can be steep, and in some areas EPS isn’t allowed in landfills at all.
Instead of losing money storing and then disposing of EPS waste, businesses can profit by recycling. Recycled styrofoam can be reused for manufacturing a wide range of products, from toys to building. By using a polystyrene densifier, waste can be compacted into a much more manageable size, reducing costs for both warehousing and transport. A combination of money saved on space, transport and landfill fees plus money gained by selling recyclable EPS more than offsets the cost of renting or purchasing a densifier.
Polystyrene materials are usually classified into different grades for different purposes. Polystyrene has three grades A, B and C. Grade A is pure white and clean polystyrene foam used for packaging and buffering. Grade B is fresh and seafood packaging with adhesive tape, stickers and other substances. Grade C is ocean buoy, and the outer layer is contaminated with polystyrene. Because the cost of recycling is greater, most recyclers only accept class A polystyrene.
Environmental Benefits of Recycling Styrofoam
Polystyrene foam doesn’t degrade naturally over time. It can take more than 500 years to decompose. Its light weight relative to volume makes it take up a lot of landfill space, and it can easily be carried by wind to litter streets or end up polluting water.
Once the polystyrene foam has broken down, it can be consumed by fish and other marine organisms. When the fish that ate the polystyrene is eaten by other fish higher in the food chain, the polystyrent can be concentrated. Polystyrene can also be consumed by fishes once it breaks down in the ocean. Humans who are on top of the food chain can then ingest toxic contaminants. Styrene, the plastic used in manufacturing EPS, has been classified by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.
Additionally, because polystyrene is a petroleum product it is a non-renewable resource.
Recycling EPS can prevent long-term damage to the environment, while bringing financial benefit to companies.