What Can Be Recycled? – The Case of Polystyrene

Polystyrene food containers

We cannot change the fact that people produce waste. An average person uses 45-85 tonnes of materials each year. However, we can change how much waste we produce, how we manage it and what we do with it.

Indeed, managing waste in a sustainable way, optimizing recycling and reuse, as well as limiting production, forms a core part of any government policy to protect the environment.

To reduce waste industries, businesses and governments are developing advanced technologies that by mimicking nature turn the waste into a resource.

Dematerialization is being encouraged through the ideas of industrial ecology, eco-design, and eco-labeling. In addition to the well-established “reduce, reuse and recycle” shoppers are using their purchasing power for ethical consumerism.

Reduce or Waste Minimization

Waste minimization is not going to reduce waste output to zero. Therefore we also have to think about what we do with the rubbish left.

Reuse

The reuse of products or materials that would otherwise become waste can provide a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. This is an area where the voluntary and community waste sector has led the way. The sector has pioneered many of the services that are widespread today, such as the re-use of furniture and white goods.

Recycle / Recover

Recycling is a way every individual can help the environment every day – and it is easier to do than it has ever been. Your recycling options will vary depending on where you live and what service provider you have. Some service providers allow you to put all your recycling into one bin, except glass and plastic bags.

Most common is drop off locations specifically for plastic bags, and other waste recycling items.

Polystyrene food containers
Takeaway food in a styrofoam container. Photo credit: Piqsels

What Can Be Recycled

Rigid Plastics/Bottles

– Any plastic bottles or containers found in your kitchen

Paper and Cardboard

– Cereal/snack cardboard boxes

– Phonebooks, magazines, and mail

– Office Paper, newspaper, and cardboard

Metals

– Tin, aluminum, and steel cans

Glass

– Food containers or jars

– Soft drink and beer bottles

– Wine and liquor bottles

What Cannot Be Recycled

Loose Plastic Bags

– Plastic shopping bags

– Plastic stretch wrap

Polystyrene Foam Cups or Containers

– Egg cartons

– Take out containers

– Drinking cups

Soiled Food Items

– Food soiled containers

– Soiled paper products

Other

– Broken or sharp glass

– Fast-food packaging

– Plastic utensils

In many places scheduled trash pickup services to offer customized trash pickup solutions to manage your daily garbage collection and waste needs.

What is Polystyrene?

Polystyrene packaging, commonly known as the trademark Styrofoam is a type of plastic made from petroleum and synthetic chemicals. It usually comes in two forms: “Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is used for making disposable cups, plates, take-out food containers, and packing materials and “solid polystyrene, which is used in plastic forks, CD, DVD cases and other products.

Polystyrene can’t be recycled through your weekly recycling bin. Most places still don’t accept it in foam forms because it’s 98% air. So take it back to a local grocery store that participates in a store take-back program for the recycling of the foam packaging. Polystyrene recycling drop off recycling stations are now available at some locations.

Polystyrene is hard to recycle because it is an end product. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable and its lifespan in a landfill can last for hundreds of thousands of years.

What Are the Effects of Polystyrene?

Polystyrene is the most widely used plastic packaging due to its melting point and durability. However, polystyrene is one of the least recycled post-consumer plastics, at a rate of below 1 percent for post-consumer polystyrene foam.

Styrene, a synthetic compound in styrofoam, and styrene oxide can leach into foods and affect human health. Obviously, this poses a serious threat to humans health and the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found tiny styrene residues in the human fat tissue samples. The EPA and International Agency for Research on Cancer consider styrene a “possible human carcinogen” and “that such materials can have serious impacts upon human health, wildlife, and aquatic environment, and the economy.” In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had added styrene to its list of known or possible carcinogens.

Therefore, recycling polystyrene is of great importance as a serious hazard to humans, wildlife, marine life, and the environment.

the case of polystyrene
Styrofoam food containers. Photo by Romana Klee/Wunderstock

Polystyrene Ban

On January 1, 2019, the New York City enforced its ban on Styrofoam. because the material can’t be “recycled in a manner that is economically feasible” or “environmentally effective” in its recycling program. Other cities have already banned EPS packaging including Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami Beach, Seattle and Washington, DC. Several states in the U.S. passed a ban on polystyrene in food containers at restaurants and grocery stores.

Alternatives for food packaging are made from bamboo, cornstarch, mushrooms, and peat plastic, and other plant-based materials.

Currently, many countries across the world banned single-use plastics including Styrofoams. Others consider ESP ban legislation and businesses phase out EPS foam packaging.

Some companies like Dell and Ikea are already offering alternative packaging. Other leading brands pledged to ensure that 70% of their packaging is reused or recycled globally. These are Coca-Cola, Danone, Dow Chemical, L’Oreal, Marks & Spencer, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.

McDonald’s is pledging to replace EPS with renewable or recyclable materials in all of its packagings by 2025. Other major U.S. companies like Amazon, Target and Walmart under growing pressure to make plans to phase out the foam.

Starbucks promised to make a 100 percent recyclable coffee cup.  The company plans to double recyclability, compostability, and reusability of their cups and packaging by 2022 and. Starbucks is committed to phasing out plastic straws from its stores globally by 2020.

Besides polystyrene, other packaging products with limited recycling markets include plastic cutlery, straws and paper napkins.

Recycling tips

  • If you buy things that can be reused, you will save precious natural resources and energy used to make them, and you’ll reduce the amount of landfill space we need when they are thrown away.
  • Well-made items may cost a little more, to begin with, but they are usually worth the money because they last for a long time.
  • When your family goes shopping, think about taking bags with you. Only about 700 paper bags can be made from one 15-year-old tree.
  • Plastic bags start out as either oil or natural gas – non-renewable resources. Throw-away bags add a lot of pollution to the environment.
  • If everyone recycled his or her newspaper just one day a week, we would save about 36 million trees a year. You can save a tree for every four feet of paper you recycle.
  • Recycle your newspapers. Recycle your old notebook paper. It is considered “white paper,” and makes better-recycled paper.
  • Batteries that are thrown away produce most of the heavy metals – dangerous substances like lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium, copper, and mercury – that are found in household trash. These metals are toxic. They can be harmful to humans and wildlife.
  • Turn off the toys and games that use batteries when you are not playing with them. That makes the batteries last longer, and you won’t need as many of them.
  • Use rechargeable batteries and a recharger.

All together, avoid packaging that cannot be disposed of in your community. Instead, choose alternatives made from plant-based material. Take the initiative to encourage local companies, colleagues, and friends to switch to biodegradable packaging. By doing this, you can help protect the environment from plastic pollution and prevent the poisoning of fish and aquatic animals in the ocean.

Author: EcoDesign&EcoLifestyle

Researcher, entrepreneur, and artist at heart.

2 thoughts on “What Can Be Recycled? – The Case of Polystyrene”

  1. That’s a great article. We need to spread the word about the plastic pollution. Keep going

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *