A type of aerated plastic, foam is one of the most ubiquitous materials of the modern world.
And being that it’s used for all manner of things, such as insulation and packaging, it’s no surprise that it’s become such a staple of industry and day-to-day life.
To keep up with demand, over 1.7 billion lbs of foam, in its many forms, is produced each year in the US alone — that’s a lot!
If all of this foam was to go to waste year after year, you don’t need to be an environmental scientist to understand we’ve got a problem on our hands.
However, if these materials are recyclable, perhaps we might not be in such a pickle after all.
Recycled goods can be repurposed using a fraction of the energy required to produce more resources from scratch. So, is foam recyclable? Let’s find out, shall we?
Types Of Foam
There are currently three main types of foam in production. They are as follows:
Polystyrene (PS) is made up of styrene monomer units bonded together by covalent bonds. It’s often referred to as ‘polymerized styrene’ or simply ‘styrene’.
Styrene is an organic compound found naturally in crude oil. It’s also a building block for other plastics that we’ll discuss in just a second.
PS is a rigid polymer that has excellent thermal properties and is highly resistant to heat.
It’s widely used in packaging, food storage and processing, construction, electronics, and even medical applications.
In fact, it’s so versatile that it’s used in everything from disposable cups to disposable plates to disposable cutlery.
And, thankfully, PS is technically recyclable, but the bad news is that not many recycling plants will have the facilities to deal with it.
If you wish to recycle your polystyrene, make sure to ring your local recycling authorities beforehand to inquire about their policies.
Polyethylene (PE), sometimes known as polythene, is a thermoplastic material. This means it can be melted at high temperatures and then molded into any shape.
It’s incredibly strong, flexible, lightweight, and durable.
PE is very common in packaging, especially food packaging. It’s usually clear, which makes it ideal for use in products like milk bottles, juice cartons, and yogurt containers.
PE is also used extensively in the manufacture of household appliances, and a number of squishy foams.
PE foam is considered a commodity plastic, meaning it can generally be recycled through normal channels.
However, some manufacturers may choose to add additional additives during manufacturing that prevent PE from being recycled.
These additives are typically added to help maintain product integrity, and they can cause problems when attempting to reprocess them.
If this is indeed the case with your PE foam, it may need to be sent to a specialized incinerator for processing.
But before you throw in the towel, check with your local authority first to see if they’ll accept it.
Some places do, while others won’t take anything apart from PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC, and ABS.
Polyurethane foam is similar to polystyrene foam, except that it contains urethane groups instead of styrene groups.
Urethanes are chemical compounds containing carbon atoms linked to oxygen atoms. This creates a soft, resilient, and elastic material.
Urethanes are commonly used in making shoe soles, mattresses, furniture cushions, bedding, insulation, and soundproofing materials.
They’re also used to create foamed-in-place concrete, which is used to waterproof floors and walls.
Urethanes are produced using two main types of chemicals: diisocyanates and polyols. Diisocyanates produce hard, brittle foam, whereas polyols produce softer, more resilient foam.
Most polyurethane foam can be recycled through normal channels if it doesn’t contain flame retardant additives.
However, there are certain types of polyurethane foam that are made specifically for use in building insulation. These include rigid, semi-rigid, and spray-on polyurethane foam.
These types of foam are often mixed with other substances such as glass fibers or rock wool, and they don’t melt at low enough temperatures to be easily recycled.
Therefore, these types of foam can only be burned in special incinerators designed specifically for their disposal.
How To Recycle Foam
There are a number of foam collection points all over the United States. They provide the easiest way to recycle your old foam.
Do some research on sites like Earth911, locate a collections service closer to you, and get to it!
How To Reuse Foam
If there are no collection points nearby, foam recycling isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. There are several ways to reuse your old foam, depending on what type you have.
For example, you could cut up your old foam to make new insulation. You’ll need to find out how much volume you have, then divide it by the density of the foam you want to replace.
For example, if you have 2 cubic feet (0.5 m3) of 1/2″ thick EPS foam, you’d need 0.25 cubic feet (0.06 m3) of new foam to achieve the same insulating value.
You can also sell it. Many companies buy scrap foam for use in landscaping projects, playgrounds, and other outdoor applications.
The bottom line is that foam recycling is perfectly possible.
As long as you’re willing to put in the time and energy, you can save yourself money and help the environment at the same time.
What Does Recycled Foam Become?
Foam can be recycled to create many things we need every day. It can be used as insulation to increase the energy efficiency of our homes.
It can also be used to protect fragile items such as plants and furniture. It can even be used to make new products like floor mats and carpet padding.
In fact, tons of the products we use every day were once made from recycled foam. So, why not recycle it ourselves?
Recycling foam is an important part of reducing waste in our society. It helps us conserve resources, reduce pollution, and keep our planet healthy.
If you’ve ever thought about recycling foam before, now might be the perfect time to start.
If you haven’t yet, take this opportunity to learn more about its benefits and see if you can get started today!