The foam industry is changing perceptions about which materials can actually be recycled. Polystyrene foam products, such as egg cartons, coffee cups, and to-go containers, are used regularly, but many people don’t know that they can recycle used foam containers. The foam industry has launched a campaign across the mid-Atlantic region of the United States to educate consumers about foam recycling.
There are a number of foam recycling centers across the country and 14 in the mid-Atlantic—a region that includes New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, DC. The foam recycling campaign has the potential to be particularly effective in the mid-Atlantic, as this region is home to a significant concentration of companies that create and distribute products made with recycled polystyrene.
The Carroll County Northern Landfill—located in north Maryland—began accepting post-consumer polystyrene foam in July 2011. The free service accepts foam service containers, including foam cups, plates, take-out containers, and egg cartons; the landfill was one of the state’s first public sites to accept these materials.
In December 2011, the Baltimore Super Citizen Convenience Center became the only site in the city to collect polystyrene foam, following the lead of the Carroll County Northern Landfill.
Since the center’s inception, Baltimore has shown an 11% increase in recycled polystyrene. The city collected almost 9,000 pounds of foam from citizens in 2014, up nearly half a ton more than the amount collected in 2013.
Despite an increase in the total amount of recycling, misconceptions around the product remain—specifically around its name. Contrary to common belief, polystyrene and Styrofoam are two distinctly different materials. Polystyrene foam is used exclusively for food packaging products while Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, and is used for insulation and shipping purposes.
In recent years, there’s been an increase in foam recycling drop-off locations from New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, to the greater area of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.
In Pennsylvania, for example, at least 94% of the state’s population has access to recycling centers and almost 900 drop-off locations that extend recycling to more rural communities. Delaware has also made it easier and more convenient for citizens to recycle their used goods. The Delaware Recycling Center (DRC) teamed up with two partners to help expand their goal of creating a green campus.
The foam industry is confident that as misconceptions surrounding polystyrene are clarified, foam recycling will become more prevalent both in the region and nationwide. Polystyrene’s practicality makes it a top choice for businesses, schools, and governments, and its recycling possibilities expand the benefits even more.