On May 14, 2015 the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) posted a video from their “Speaking of Chemistry” series. In the short clip, C&EN senior editor Sophia Cai discusses the reasons why food packaging made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), similar to Styrofoam™, is not routinely recycled. Unlike other common food packaging materials like paper, plastic or glass, EPS is not recycled because it is neither clean, nor dry, or intact after use. It would need to be washed within 24 hours after being discarded, a demand that turns out to be too expensive. Secondly, more than 95% of EPS packaging is air, effectively requiring large and costly transportation containers for material that is then melted down to 1/40 of its original size. And thirdly, in 1990 a major American fast food company replaced their EPS burger packaging with paperboard-based containers. This reduced the availability of EPS containers for recycling dramatically, making a large-scale process uneconomic because too little EPS waste is available. New York City has now banned plastic foam fast food packaging made from EPS because it could not be recycled cost effectively (FPF reported). The ban becomes effective in July 2015.
Sophia Cai (May 14, 2015). “Why don’t we recycle Styrofoam? Speaking of chemistry, episode 19.” Chemical & Engineering News Online