Quick clarification: The name of this product is actually Foam 6 (Styrofoam® is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company). Foam 6 is a thermoplastic, which means it can be recycled repeatedly.
If you’re looking at your foodservice containers (like cups, food trays, clamshell “to go” containers) check on the bottom to see the number in the middle of the recycling symbol. If it has the number 6 in the middle, then you know that you’re reading the right article.?
The good news is that polystyrene foam (#6) is technically recyclable. The bad news is that many communities require a dropoff at a special location that recycles these items, or do not collect polystyrene foam products for recycling at all. Here is a recycling locator that I found online to make it easy. If you don’t see your community located there, it’s best to go to your city’s website to get a list of their recycling criteria. Note that polystyrene foam and rigid polystyrene both have the same polymer number (#6), so check to make sure which your community accepts or doesn’t accept in curbside and/or dropoff.
- Coffee/soda cups may need to be rinsed to be recycled (depending on your community’s requirements).
- Foodservice containers or trays need to be rinsed, with the food picked out of them.
What does Foam 6 become when it’s recycled?
- Home Insulation
- Picture Frames
- Crown Molding (yes, really!).
Just to double-check my internet research, I sent a note to Darby Hoover at the Natural Resources Defense Council. About this kind of plastic, she said: “every locality in the US has different protocols for what materials can be recycled and how they collect those materials, and those differ from place to place. For example, one city might accept a particular material in their recycling that isn’t accepted in a neighboring city. Everyone should check the website or information provided by their local recycling, public works, solid waste, or other municipal agency overseeing local waste issues to find out what is recyclable where they live. In the case of #6 (polystyrene) plastic, most cities that do accept that material for recycling are only accepting the rigid form of polystyrene (e.g. some yogurt cups).”
In summary, while you can recycle this kind of plastic, it might require an excursion to do it. Maybe you can collect these in a bin until you’re able to make the trip? Leave me your tips in the comments!