Why Can’t We Recycle Styrofoam?

(3-min read)

We Can Recycle Most Materials

Thanks to innovations in technology, building materials have become increasingly recyclable. On a demolition site, we can recycle a good portion of construction steel, concrete, glass, paper-based products, and even asphalt. Styrofoam, on the other hand, is mostly a one-time-use material in general.

What is Styrofoam?

Believe it or not, “styrofoam” is the trademarked name of a material called expanded polystyrene (also known as EPS) much in the same way a Kleenex is just a type of facial tissue. EPS is a synthetic aromatic hydrocarbon polymer created from monomer styrene. When expanded with air, it is used frequently as a form of insulation — either in construction materials or in disposable food containers, plates, bowls, cups, and so on. It is an excellent barrier for liquids, either keeping fluids in a cup or out of a house and doesn’t let air pass through. It can be easily molded to any shape, injected into different-sized spaces, and doesn’t decay.

EPS is Forever

Yep — EPS doesn’t break down. While that is a perk of using it for construction, this makes this one-time-use product not the greatest in terms of its environmental sustainability. Because EPS doesn’t decay, once dumped in a landfill, its there for good. While even aluminum cans may biodegrade in 100 years or so, EPS is mostly immune to decay for over 500 years or possibly even lasting forever under the right conditions.

Why Can’t We Recycle EPS?

If you’ve ever tried to recycle EPS packaging or an old foam cooler, if your local recycling pickup service knew it about it, you’d likely find the item still on the curb after they stopped by. Even though EPS can technically be recycled, the reason it isn’t is that doing so is not economically feasible. EPS is made of a polymer, sure, but is also injected with air. By the time the material is sorted, cleaned, shipped, and the air is removed for reshaping, money is lost in the process. This makes EPS a largely one-time-use only product — afterward to forever sit in a landfill mostly the way it landed in there.

Should We Continue to Use Styrofoam?

There is an ongoing conversation at the moment of whether or not EPS/styrofoam should continue to be used for construction purposes. While it is an excellent insulation material, it’s well known that EPS will outlive any structure it is installed within, then left to live out the rest of its days in a landfill. Other more environmentally friendly alternatives continue to be developed.

Demolition with Decreased Waste?

If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly method of commercial demolition, look no further than DT Specialized Services. We specialize in reducing materials waste by processing demolished building materials for recycling.

I want to speak with a DT Specialized Services representative.