Top Troublemakers: Plastic Foam


Have you ever thrown egg cartons, meat trays or takeout containers made of white foam into the recycling bin?

Unfortunately, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam – commonly referred to as “Styrofoam,” a trademarked name of a unique type of polystyrene – is not accepted in your curbside recycling. Here’s why.

There are two main problems with recycling EPS: 

  1. Contamination
    EPS is often contaminated with food debris or liquid and is difficult to sanitize. Food and liquid-soiled material can cause entire loads of clean recyclables to be rejected and sent to the landfill instead.
  2. Density
    Expanded polystyrene is approximately 5 percent plastic and 95 percent air. This means it is extremely lightweight and prone to flying away when collected from bins without a garbage bag. It also takes up a lot of room per unit of weight and is not cost-effective to transport. EPS foam is also problematic when littered. It does not degrade and breaks easily into tiny pieces, making it difficult to clean up. Those small pieces are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife and are harmful to their health. To combat these problems and to protect the environment, San José has adopted a Foam Food Container Ordinance, requiring all restaurants to use non-foam food service ware for both dine-in and takeout. 
How you can reduce and reuse EPS: 
  • Choose wadded paper, shredded paper or newspaper instead of “packing peanuts” to protect fragile packages. 
  • Reuse foam packing peanuts for future packages, or to refill pillows, cushions, or stuffed animals. 
Need to dispose of EPS? Here are some alternative recycling programs for EPS: 
  • Home for Foam recycling programs provide curbside or drop-off opportunities.

If the alternative recycling programs for EPS are not an option for you, please place EPS foam in the garbage. 

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