Is Styrofoam Recyclable?

Expanded polystyrene foam, more commonly known as Styrofoam, is everywhere. It’s used in the packaging of appliances, electronics, food, and about a million other consumer goods, but don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. The global demand for Styrofoam is steadily increasing. In fact, some experts expect demand for Styrofoam to increase to a high of 23.5 million tons by 2020. Considering that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable, you can’t help but wonder “is Styrofoam recyclable?”

At Reno’s Appliance, we deliver about 600 appliances per week—most of them packaged in cardboard and Styrofoam. So we’re not only experts in appliances, but we’ve become experts in recycling our packaging materials as well. We wanted to share some of the basics about Styrofoam recycling.

Is Styrofoam recyclable?

The short answer is yes. The technology to recycle Styrofoam already exists and a small percentage of manufacturers have been producing goods from recycled Styrofoam for years. One of the reasons why Styrofoam recycling isn’t more popular is because it’s so expensive to transport. Styrofoam is actually about 95% air. So when you fill a truck with Styrofoam, you’re actually spending a lot of money to move very little product.  

However, the costs associated with transporting Styrofoam can be reduced considerably by reducing its volume. That’s just a fancy way of saying “smoosh it all together.” Companies can do that with what is known as volume reduction equipment. There are three basic types of volume reduction equipment:

  • Balers use a hydraulic ram to crush large amounts of Styrofoam into bales that are tied with twine for easy transport.
  • Cold compactors first break Styrofoam down into flakes, and then turn those flakes into logs. The resulting logs can be broken down into smaller shapes or even pellets, if needed.
  • Thermal densifiers use heat to melt Styrofoam into a resin, which is then allowed to cool into bricks. This method creates the most compact and sterile end product.

Does Reno’s recycle Styrofoam?

As mentioned at the top of this article, Reno’s crew typically delivers 600 appliances per week. Each appliance is carefully unboxed and inspected at the delivery site. All of the packing materials are then loaded back into the truck and taken to the warehouse. Reno’s has been recycling all of its cardboard for years, but Styrofoam recycling has been more of a challenge.

In 2017, Paul Cioletti of Reno’s did some research and decided that a thermal densifier would be the best solution to handle their Styrofoam packaging. Once the Styrofoam is processed, it is sold to a company that uses it to make picture frames. So far, Reno's has recycled over 5,000 pounds of Styrofoam. That’s 5,000 pounds of Styrofoam that didn’t go to a landfill. And that’s just the beginning.

What’s in store for the future?

More and more products are being made from recycled Styrofoam, including coat hangers, toys, and office supplies. But it’s not stopping there. Some companies are even mixing recycled Styrofoam with concrete to build walls for homes and buildings. Turns out, homes made from the recycled material are more sound proof and provide greater insulation.

These recycling innovations are good news, but will need to continue as the demand for Styrofoam increases year after year. Without recycling, more Styrofoam will end up in landfills, taking up significant space. In addition, it can easily be blown into streets, bodies of water, and storm drains. Hopefully, greater profit, not to mention a cleaner planet, will incentivize more companies to step up their Styrofoam recycling efforts.

Reno’s Appliance was founded in 1951 as Reno’s Radio & TV. Since then, the shop has grown to become the one-stop home appliance source trusted by thousands. Reno’s sons continue to carry on the tradition set forth by their father and exhibit exceptional customer service. We have every home appliance you will possibly need. Stop by our showroom in Paterson, NJ to view our selection.