Styrofoam, plastic foam and other polystyrenes are designated as plastic No. 6, but many recycling programs that accept plastic No. 6 specifically exclude Styrofoam. EPS foams contain a lot of air, which is why they are good insulators. However, the extra air makes them hard to ship. Once the Styrofoam has been melted down and the air removed, little plastic is recovered compared to other polystyrenes such as those used in DVD cases. The resources required to ship and process the EPS offsets the environmental benefits of recycling to a greater degree than denser plastics.
Biodiesel Additive – A article in New Scientist notes that a study co-led by Song-Charng Kong at Iowa State University in Ames showed another way to recycle plastic foam is to add it to biodiesel fuels. The study, published in the journal “Energy & Fuels,” was funded in part by the Department of Defense, which was looking for new ways that troops in remote areas could recycle materials. The researchers discovered that biodiesels, but not other liquid fuels, break down polystyrene almost on contact. The fuel mixture produces more power than biodiesel without added polystyrene. The downside is the fuel mixture puts out more emissions than standard biodiesel, but in a battle situation, the ability to turn garbage into energy without using special equipment could be a critical advantage for soldiers.
Reuse – Rather than looking for ways to recycle plastic foam, in many cases it’s better to reuse it. Save packing peanuts so you can use them the next time you ship something. If you don’t ship many packages, take a bag of the pellets to your nearest shipping store so they can reuse it. Break up the big pieces of foam used to package electronics and place the pieces at the bottom of a planter before filling it with soil. The EPS foam will help with drainage like gravel does, but the pot will be much lighter.
Pipe Insulation – Another example of reuse would be to take advantage of the insulating qualities of polystyrene foam to save energy in your home. Plastic foam cups can be wrapped around exposed hot water pipes to keep the heat in. Rinse the cups out after use and cut them open. Wrap the cups around the pipe and close each one with a small piece of tape. Instead of doing a whole pipe at once, simply wrap your pipes as the plastic foam becomes available. Not only are you keeping EPS foam out of the landfill, but you are reducing your energy use and cutting back on the emissions required to produce that extra energy.