EPS, or expanded polystyrene, is commonly called 'styrofoam' by most people in the same way a copier is a 'Xerox', or a tissue is a 'Kleenex'. The term styrofoam is a Dow trademark however, and refers to their own product that is an extruded closed cell polystyrene foam.
EPS is made when a chemical blowing agent (pentane, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, etc.) is applied to polystyrene in the presence of heat. The reaction forms bubbles which expand and produce foam.
The easiest answer is that it will take 500 years for EPS to break down under normal conditions. As a consumer nation, we use a lot of EPS in packaging (electronics, furniture, toys, appliances, food, shipping, etc.) and then pitch it, creating a problem that will stay with us for hundreds of years to come. EPS is, however, not really the bad guy as packaging does save a tremendous amount of energy and prevents excessive raw material use/waste. Once packaging is used though, it really does need to be recycled.
According to the Registry of Cytotoxicity Data (ZEBET) 7.1, National Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany, the median lethal dose of styrene is 3 mmol / kg (body weight), so there is a threat to humans and animals if they were to eat packaging peanuts or small pieces of foam. Because of it's bulk density, EPS will float on the water and readily blow in the wind, making it harder to contain the scrap.
Styrene itself has not been shown to be a carcinogen or pose serious health risks when used properly, however the brominated flame retardants that are used in many packaging applications may be of concern. Benzene and ethylbenzene are both known carcinogens and are used to create polystyrene, which, if not fully reacted during manufacturing, could be a potential hazard as well.
There are a variety of reasons why EPS makes a tougher product to recycle than standard polystyrene. First off, they are very light to ship, so recyclers lose money in collecting and transporting non-densified scrap. Trapped gasses can burst and pop in injection molding machines or extruders if they are not well vented, causing a significantly higher scrap rate for the end-user. EPS traditionally has a very low impact strength, which reduces potential end-uses as well, unless it is further compounded. In addition to EPS, there are a number of other polymers that are used in foam packaging, including polyethylene, polyurethane, and polypropylene, which can contaminate feed streams when recycled if not carefully separated. Additives such as flame retardants, and contaminations such as tape, dirt and food are common and complicate recycling efforts as well.
Phoenix Recycling runs a densification unit capable of over 200,000 lbs per cycle of force. This extreme pressure forces the trapped gas out, and is called a 'cold-press' system. Typically this takes the material from 1-2 lbs / cuft. to 16-17 lbs / cuft. There is also a 'hot-melt' technology that uses heat instead of pressure, and while less expensive, the heat can crystalize the styrene making it more brittle and lowering its overall properties. Because of our commitment to quality reusable products, we run only the cold-press technology.
Phoenix Recycling has a residential/commercial/business drop-off location at 2040 S. Hamilton Rd, Columbus, OH 43232. There is a 12' white storage trailer marked "Styrofoam" with gaylord boxes inside immediately on the right as you first come in the gate in which you can place your EPS. If you think you have more than what will fit, just call us in advance, and we will offload you personally directly into the warehouse. There are absolutely no charges associated with dropping EPS, but there are a few guidelines:
1. No food-grade EPS (meat packaging, trays, cups, plates, egg cartons, etc.), unless it is brand new and has never contacted any food or beverage. We do not currently accept washed food grade EPS either. Remember that a little contamination can destroy many good efforts, so in general please no food grade.
2. Please remove tape, paper and any other contaminants from packaging
3. Please keep all EPS peanuts in a sealed plastic bag. They will blow down the street if they are not confined in a bag, and we want to be a good neighbor to the families and businesses in the local area.
4. This last one is not a rule, but a just a "green" suggestion. Please remember that if you are dropping it off to ask to take your neighbor's EPS too, and save up before you come. Using a gallon of gasoline to save one pound of EPS isn't helping the environment, so recycle in bulk, and try to make a trip when you are already in the area.
We are open Monday through Friday 9 AM to 3 PM.
As a business, you will save on landfilling costs, which can range from a couple hundred dollars to several hundred, depending on your location and service provider.
2040 S. Hamilton Rd
Columbus, OH 43232
Open 9-3 Mon - Fri