Polystyrene Recycling

Did you know that mealworms in the lab can degrade Polystyrene (PS) foam into usable organic matter at a rate of about 34-39 milligrams per day?  Until this method is shown to work on a large scale, we are left with what to do with the massive amounts of PS waste we generate as consumers.

The two forms of Polystyrene that occur most commonly in everyday uses are

    • PS plastic used in smoke detector housing, CD cases, food (yogurt) containers, red “solo” drink cups i.e. those with  on the underside, and
    • PS foam used to make packing peanuts, Styrofoam cups, packing blocks, coolers and the like.

We are aware that these products cannot be included in our curbside recycling bins; however, many are accepted at drop-off locations, notably, the DSWA (Delaware Solid Waste Authority) Recycling Center at Lambson Lane, Newcastle, and, if you live in southern DE, at the Jones Crossroads Landfill in Georgetown. At the former facility, a dedicated container is available where residents can drop off their clean Styrofoam, such as cups, plates, trays, egg cartons, coolers, and protective packaging used to protect consumer goods and electronics. Peanuts and soiled takeout containers are not accepted. 

A word about those cornstarch-based packing peanuts. Are they better for the environment?  It depends: they are biodegradable but are more expensive to produce and can contaminate the recycling waste stream (one of the reasons why peanuts as a group are not accepted for recycling). Because they dissolve in water and, lacking an electrostatic charge, do not stick to clothes, they can be differentiated from Styrofoam peanuts. Do not go by the color of the peanuts – those that are tinted green simply signify that they are made of at least 70% recycled PS, not that they are the eco-friendly variety.

UUFN is reviving its PS recycling program. Clean bagged PS waste dropped off in the coat closet by the main entrance will be removed periodically and taken to the Lambson Lane facility for recycling. If possible, break down large pieces of packing foam into manageable pieces before bagging.

For more information, contact Kip King or Guat-Lian Kreamer.