Not in your blue barrel.

What is polystyrene exactly?

Good question. The almost omnipresent material that remains the topic of much debate has been around for the past 75 years and is known by a more common household name: Styrofoam.  Styrofoam is actually the trademarked brand name for the lightweight foam materialwhich is comprised of a combination of the petroleum-based plastic – polystyrene, and…well, air. Although it offers featherlight and highly insulative qualities, the cost of Styrofoam use is hefty and quite stifling. With Americans throwing away roughly 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, the implications of continued Styrofoam use needs to be addressed. We’ll provide you with the answer to the question, can Styrofoam be recycled or will it always be destined to end up in landfills?

Why can’t I put Styrofoam in my blue bin?

While Styrofoam can help your fingers avoid being burned by hot coffee, and your packages unbroken, it still has its drawbacks. Its lightweight quality makes Styrofoam quite useful, however, this attribute also makes it very challenging to recycle. Its lightness makes it difficult to collect from curbside containers as it easily blows away and becomes litter.

Another limitation to Styrofoam use is directly tied to the recycling process. Recycling is heavily focused on grouping and sorting the same type of materials by their material container code. You may have noticed that many of the plastic containers you see everyday are numbered with the universal recycling sign on them. There are other coded plastics that are much easier to separate and process together. Each number is a different type of plastic recipe. Examples include plastics coded with the number 1 (soda bottles, food trays), 2 (laundry detergent, milk bottles), and 4 (plastic bags), which are all much easier to isolate. By the time polystyrene (coded a number 6) makes it to recycling facilities, it’s already mixed in with other materials, like the straw or lid, which typically accompany Styrofoam cups.

Is Styrofoam recyclable?

Since polystyrene is a type of plastic, it can be recycled. However, our recycling facilities do not accept Styrofoam (or plastic bags) in the recycling bins. But if you do want to recycle Styrofoam blocks, there are places to do so in Tucson. Check out Tucson Clean and Beautiful’s recycling directory for more information.

What’s the best way to get rid of Styrofoam?

The best way to recycle Styrofoam is actually by reusing it. You can check out our Pinterest board for creative crafts on how to put your Styrofoam to good use. Remember, Styrofoam does NOT belong in the recycling bin; it leads to higher levels of contamination at our Recycling Facilities.

Is it time for Styrofoam to retire?

Not everyone agrees that Styrofoam should be around for the long haul. Styrofoam is non-biodegradable, meaning that the environment cannot break it down naturally to be dissolved into soil. So, when it ends up in the landfill it stays there forever. Plastic bags, plastic bottles and certain computer hardware components are also included in the list of non-biodegradable materials. With public scrutiny on Styrofoam use on the rise, it may be best to opt for carrying along reusable cups for your morning Joe.  And, if your Styrofoam plate or container already has food or drink residue on it, place it in the trash bin, not the blue bin.

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