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Each year, Australia produces thousands of tons of expanded polystyrene (EPS), known to many people as styrofoam. While some of this styrofoam is made for single-use like in packaging, most of it is created for long-term use in construction and manufacturing industries.
Disposing single-use styrofoam consumer products is a challenge. Most people find it easy to throw styrofoam waste in their bins. When styrofoam is thrown in the waste bin, it ends up in landfills where it stays forever without ever breaking down. Since styrofoam is made of styrene, which is toxic and carcinogenic, it is considered hazardous waste.
When these toxic chemicals are washed from landfills into drinking water sources, they can cause public health issues. Styrofoam, however, has many advantages which make us overlook its negative impact on the environment and public health.
How then can wastes from single-use styrofoam products be disposed of? Whenever we think about the disposal of non-biodegradable waste, recycling seems to be the best option. But is styrofoam recyclable? Let’s find out.
What Is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is a commonly used type of plastic made of air and beads of polystyrene plastic in varying proportions.
There are two forms of polystyrene plastic:
• Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is mostly air with a small proportion of plastic. Styrofoam is made from beads of an expanded form of polystyrene plastic and is sometimes referred to as polystyrene foam.
• Rigid Polystyrene (PS), which has more plastic than air.
Common Styrofoam Products
Styrofoam is commonly used in the production of disposable food containers, packaging, and construction products.
Standard styrofoam products are labelled as EPS and include:
• Packing peanuts
• Foam cups
Uses Of Styrofoam Products
Styrofoam products are used for various purposes, including:
• Packaging - Styrofoam food containers, blocks, packing peanuts, and cartons are used for packaging foodstuffs, electronics and furniture.
• Insulation - Electronics in transit are packed using styrofoam insulation panels to prevent damage and short-circuiting.
• Construction - Some domestic building products are manufactured using polystyrene. For example, long-term use EPS such as waffle pods are used in housing construction.
• Artwork - Styrofoam beans are used in art and craftwork to make jewellery and toys.
Advantages Of Using Styrofoam Products
Styrofoam products are widely used in Australia as an alternative to paper and plastic. Some of the reasons why styrofoam products are preferred include:
• They are affordable compared to other alternatives
• Styrofoam products are lightweight yet strong enough to support heavy loads
• They are good shock absorbers hence prevent damage to items during shipping
• They provide good insulation when transporting electronics
It is unsafe to throw or burn styrofoam because it is made of toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment. The best way to dispose of single-use styrofoam is by recycling o reusing.
Is polystyrene recyclable? Yes, polystyrene is recyclable, and it does not have to end in your waste bin. You cannot, however, recycle polystyrene in your curbside recycling bin. It is therefore crucial that you know polystyrene waste collection points. Most drop-off facilities accept polystyrene only from their council residents.
Rigid polystyrene is easier to recycle because they do not have air. On the other hand, expanded polystyrene (EPS) or polystyrene foam is difficult to recycle because it is mostly air with less plastic.
Most councils rarely accept polystyrene foam for recycling but will accept rigid polystyrene such as yoghurt tubs in curbside recycling bins. Some recycling facilities will also take expanded polystyrene. Enquire from your local council if such companies exist in your area.
Once collected, polystyrene is recycled and remanufactured into products that can be used in:
• Traffic cones
• Park benches
• Coat hangers
• Fabrication of motor car parts
• Manufacturing new EPS products
Styrofoam is non-degradable, and most of its products are difficult to recycle. Single-use styrofoam products can take thousands of years to break down when disposed of in landfills.
This isn't good for the environment, and reusing is a great way to minimise the environmental impact of single-use styrofoam products. Some single-use styrofoam products can be put to the same use they were manufactured for.
Ways of reusing styrofoam include:
• You can reuse packing peanuts to transport other delicate items or donate them to shipping businesses around your area
• Because they are very soft, you can use styrofoam peanuts for stuffing pillows and chairs
• Styrofoam has good insulation properties, which makes packing peanuts an ideal alternative to ice in a cooler
• You can also use styrofoam to build and insulate pet houses
• You can donate single-use styrofoam products to elementary or pre-schools where teachers and learners always have creative ways to reuse them
• Packing peanuts can be used in gardening by filling your planters with packing peanuts to improve drainage
• Reused styrofoam cups can be used to grow seedlings
• Foam trays can be used as drying boards
The Process Of Recycling Styrofoam
The same properties that make styrofoam ideal for many uses also make it difficult and uneconomical to recycle. Therefore, very few facilities are set up for styrofoam recycling.
After styrofoam is delivered to a recycling facility, it undergoes the following process:
• Feeding collected EPS foam into a shredding machine via a conveyor belt
• Melting shredded EPS foam in a plastic extruder under high pressure and temperature
• Solidifying molten EPS foam into a continuous form
The solid form of EPS is then taken to factories for remoulding into a variety of products.
Importance Of Recycling Or Reusing Styrofoam
Styrofoam is made of toxic chemicals and is non-biodegradable. When disposed of in the environment, it can create serious problems. Recycling and reusing are great ways of managing styrofoam waste. Moreover, recycling reduces the waste stream load (the complete flow of waste) as it continues through the life cycle of waste.
The following are some of the benefits of recycling and/or reusing styrofoam:
• Reduces the need to produce more styrofoam
• Protects the environment and public health
• Reusing or recycling styrofoam helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills
Alternatives To Styrofoam
Even though styrofoam can be reused or recycled to minimise its impact on the environment, it may be best not to use it at all. Most styrofoam waste in landfills comes from food containers and disposable cups. It is best if you use environmentally friendly alternatives whenever you can.
Some of the eco-friendly alternatives to styrofoam include:
• Air-cushions for packaging products that need to be transported
• Biodegradable boxes and disposable cups, spoons, and plates made of corn starch
• Packaging materials made from mushroom
• Edible packing peanuts made of corn
• Bowls made using bamboo
Styrofoam has good properties that make it ideal for use in various consumer products like cups and plates and sectors such as shipping, food, and construction. But, because it is a type of plastic, styrofoam does not break down. It also contains a chemical called styrene that is carcinogenic to humans.
This is particularly a big problem when styrofoam is dumped in landfills. While recycling and/or reusing diverts styrofoam waste from landfills, the best way to deal with it is to use alternative products.
Too Much Styrofoam? Call Professional Services
Styrofoam has many different uses, and amongst these, they are both positive and negative. This is especially in the case of styrofoam and the environment. As such, it is in the best interests of mother nature to contact a reputable skip service to assist you through the removal and recycling process. These skip removalists come qualified and trained with the knowledge and expertise to handle the job.