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Styrofoam - inexpensive, but it lasts a long, long time

Styrofoam, the generic term used to describe Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS), is a very inexpensive way for companies to protect items they ship and for restaurants to use for take-out food. Many people know that Styrofoam is not easily recyclable, especially when used for food packaging. But did you know that Styrofoam does not really decompose, and most estimates suggest it takes centuries for it to even break down?

Some towns do provide options to recycle Styrofoam packaging. Pittsburgh, PA is no exception. As part of the Pennsylvania Resource Council’s Hard-to-Recycle events, molded Styrofoam (the kind used in packaging or for coolers, usually labeled #6) is collected at no charge. The events are finished for 2022, but you can see from this link where/when they collected these items. Appliance Warehouse on the South Side (20 South 6th Street) has a free drop-off location for Styrofoam packaging in its parking lot that is available Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., although you may want to call ahead to confirm (412-381-8800).

Recently, I became aware of an option to recycle Styrofoam used in food packaging. I will admit it is not conveniently located to where I live, but in my quest to not put anything in the trash, finding somewhere that will take this kind of Styrofoam is worth the travel. I have been storing my Styrofoam and taking it once a year to Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling Center. This link shows you all the items they recycle, many at no charge. But back to Styrofoam! They take the following:

  • White block packaging foam and coolers

  • Colored and white food service trays (CLEAN OFF ALL FOOD RESIDUE): cups, plates, grocery store trays, egg cartons, fast food containers

It is highly unusual to find a place that takes all the items I highlighted, especially if they are not white in color. For example, many packs of mushrooms (or meat) are packaged on top of a colored Styrofoam tray. These items, as well as other common Styrofoam containers (milkshake cups, takeout clamshells, etc.), are all accepted in Westmoreland. However, packing peanuts and rigid foam sheet insulation used in construction are not.

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling Center is a great option for those in Western PA to recycle Styrofoam and many other items. I have found it is worth the trip, as I take other recyclable items they accept when I go to recycle my Styrofoam. That usually saves me a trip I would have taken to recycle my glass, metal, bulbs, etc. Consider giving this recycling journey a try! You could even partner with like-minded neighbors to “carpool” and reduce the number of times any one person has to travel there to recycle.

If your town does not offer options to recycle Styrofoam (or even if it does), you can always be mindful when you are buying something, like ice cream, and opt for a cone instead of a Styrofoam bowl, or eggs in a paper carton instead of one in Styrofoam.

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