Foam Recycling Rates Climb

November 18, 2014

Ensuring that recyclable materials are disposed of responsibly is a daily occurrence in most homes, organizations and school campuses. Polystyrene foam products can be some of the items recycled. The EPS Industry Alliance, an advocacy group for individuals and organizations within the expanded polystyrene (EPS) industry, recently released a statement noting that the rate of EPS foam recycling has continually increased over the last twenty-plus years.1 EPS is often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. Foam is the material that makes up the single-use foodservice items consumers prefer, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers.

According to the EPS Industry Alliance, the rate of EPS recycling rose to 35 percent in the U.S. and Canada in 2013.1 This figure represents a total 127.3 million pounds of post-commercial and post-consumer packaging, as well as post-industrial recovery foam that was processed and recycled over the last year.1This report confirms that the rate of recycling polystyrene foam is up roughly 5 percent year-after-year.1 The EPS Industry Alliance notes that consumer and commercial recycling represented a large amount of all recycled foam in 2013, stating, “When comparing rigid, durable polystyrene and other grade materials, EPS post-consumer and post-commercial recycling represent 47% of all post-use polystyrene recycled in the US and is one of the highest within the plastics family.”1 This increased rate reflects the continual growth of polystyrene foam recycling since 1991.1

One could relate the increased recycling rate of foam products to the influx of education regarding the properties of foam when compared to alternatives. For some consumers, there is still belief in the misconception that polystyrene foam is not a recyclable material, and that alternative single-use products are better for the environment. Several recent studies have proved that this is simply not true. Not only are foam items able to be recycled, they also require fewer resources to be produced than most alternatives. An article published by Christopher Bonanos of New York Magazine, notes, “It takes two and a half times as much energy to make a paper cup as it does to make a foam cup. Foam cups are also much lighter than paper cups, reducing the amount of fuel needed to ship them to the store and to cart them away as trash. Foam also produces a lot less manufacturing waste, because there are no paper offcuts to discard.”2 There is certainly more work to be done to educate individuals on the recyclability of polystyrene foam, but the increased rate of recycling within the U.S. and Canada would suggest that consumers are moving toward this understanding.

Sources: 1. Recycling International, 2. New York Magazine