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Is it Possible to Recycle Styrofoam?

Prachi Patkar
Many cities in the United States have banned the use of polystyrene because of its unfriendly correlation with the environment. Styrofoam is a form of polystyrene which is recyclable.

Did You Know?

Styrofoam must not be burned as it produces poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide on burning. It's highly flammable and hence, must not be used for insulation purposes.
Polystyrene - a grade 6 plastic, is made from the monomer styrene. Polystyrene is divided into two varieties: namely expanded polystyrene foam and extruded polystyrene foam. Expanded polystyrene foam is called Styrofoam. It is a trademark owned by a company named 'Dow Chemical Corporation'.
Being lightweight and waterproof makes it apt for making Carling floats, fabrication material for automobile parts, packaging material, plates, and cups.
According to Environmental Protection Agency, the Styrofoam cups waste by Americans exceeds 25 billion cups per year. Very few recycling processes exist for polystyrene. Recycling programs should be such that they rank well in efficiency as well as are economical on the pocket.
Moreover, the shortcoming of the recycling process is the difficulty in categorization of plastic according to their type and plastic code. This plastic waste contains food leftovers or other plastic which makes recycling process more difficult. The rate at which polystyrene is produced and used is much higher as compared to the rate at which it's disposed.

How to Recycle Styrofoam?

► Many commercial zones and stores collect Styrofoam for recycling. Taking Styrofoam to stores that recycle polystyrene material is a feasible solution to this problem. However, it is very important to check with these programs beforehand, about the details such as type and the grade of plastic to be recycled.
► Initially, all the plastic that needs recycling is collected. This plastic needs to be sorted according to their grades. Mixing Styrofoam with other plastic can botch up the entire recycling output. Hence, it is necessary to classify the plastic before sending them for recycling.
► Once the plastic classification is complete, stack up the Styrofoam which needs to be sent for recycling. Ensure that this material is cleaned thoroughly to get rid of any waste material such as food particles, or packaging tape etc, as most of the recycling programs don't do the cleaning.
► Local recycling programs have drop-off points for Styrofoam recycling. Find out the closest drop-off point and deposit the cleaned Styrofoam. Some of the recycling programs also allow sending the waste by mail in case there aren't any centers in the vicinity.
If all the given methods are difficult to execute, try setting up a recycling program of your own. This is very beneficial if a considerable amount of polystyrene is collected on a regular basis. To set up a program, contact business owners and those who are in need of polystyrene recycling stations. This reduces your dependency on the recycling programs.

Recycling Process

Almost 97% of Styrofoam is air. Therefore it occupies a large space. It is fed into a compactor which takes out the heat from the Styrofoam and reduces it to a compact form. The reduced volume facilitates easy transportation.
The Styrofoam is then sorted and fed into a densifier which condenses the input. The condensed Styrofoam is then taken to recycling plant. It is rinsed, bobbled, and dried to be made into small pellets. These pellets can then be used to manufacture other Styrofoam products.

Cons of Styrofoam

▤ If Styrofoam is land-filled, it can remain there without disintegrating for a million years. Baby diapers, plastic cups do not disintegrate causing a problem to the landfill.

▤ The number of recycling stations for Styrofoam are too few. The very low acceptance of Styrofoam for processing is because it is voluminous.
▤ Most of the Styrofoam cups and containers contain waste food. Such contamination needs to be cleaned before they are recycled which adds to the cost of recycling.

▤ New Styrofoam needs to be used for manufacturing cups and plates. Recycled material cannot be used. This leads to the increase in Styrofoam production.
If you happen to have lots of Styrofoam at home or your workplace, which needs to be recycled, locate buyers or recycling businesses in your neighborhood who buy Styrofoam. This will help you get rid of Styrofoam as well as you can get some cash in return.
Although plastic is widely used, it is to be noted that most of the types are non-biodegradable. Therefore, it is better to use the ones which are reusable in order to maintain a balance in the environment.