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EPS and Recycling

EPS is everywhere: It holds your food, secures items in packages, provides insulation in homes and industry and it’s even in your bike helmet. It’s also known as plastic #6, which you’ve seen used in plastic cups and CD and DVD cases.

Can expanded polystyrene, EPS, be recycled?

Even if your community recycles plastic #6, it may not accept EPS. Because it’s so lightweight, EPS takes up 0.01 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight, but as you may have guessed, its volume is a greater problem than its weight. It takes up space in landfills and doesn’t biodegrade. Landfills are for profit entities that charge by weight and space is a precious commodity. EPS therefore presented a unique challenge. Fortunately, scientists at Sony discovered that EPS completely dissolves when sprayed with limonene, a natural oil extracted from the skin of oranges or other citrus fruits. The EPS dissolves at room temperature and can be processed for reuse.

The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers reports that 56 million pounds of EPS are now recycled yearly in the U.S.  That’s an astonishing amount considering that EPS is 98 percent air.

Because of the varied uses for EPS, recycling requirements are a little more complex than, say, paper and other plastics, but it is worth making the effort   to keep this prevalent material in use and out of landfills.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


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