What is Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a trademarked brand covers a range of extruded polystyrene foam, commonly called “Blue Board”, manufactured as foam continuous building insulation board used in walls, roofs, and foundations as thermal insulation and water resistance. It’s owned and manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company.

The word “Styrofoam” is generally used to describe material made of polystyrene foam with white color. It is often used in food containers, coffee cups, and as cushioning material in packaging.


How is Styrofoam made?

3 stages of Styrofoam production:

1. Pre-expansion

Foamed polystyrene starts as small spherical beads with a typical diameter of 0.5-1.5mm that contains an expanding agent pentane (a hydrocarbon). The polystyrene beads are heated with steam and, as the expanding agent boils, 10 the beads soften and expand up to forty times their original size

2. Conditioning

The expanded beads are left to cool down and undergo maturing period to achieve equilibrium temperature and pressure.

3. Molding

The expanded beads are put in a mold and reheated with steam. The molds are designed in a variety of shapes depending on the desired end product, such as Styrofoam cups, cartons, wig stands, and more. The beads completely fill the mold and also fuse together. The final product is typically comprised of 95% air and 5% polystyrene.

Can we recycle styrofoam?

Styrofoam recycling is very difficult, even though it is labeled as a recycling # 6 Plastic

Problems that recycling companies face are useful properties of Styrofoam such as lightweight, low cost, and durability, insulated, make it hard to recycle:

– By being very lightweight, the cost of transporting the Styrofoam to a recycling plant makes it undesirable to recycle. The large volume that it takes up in the shipping containers compared to its weight make it not effective to transport.

– Styrofoam has good insulation properties and is low cost; it is often used in the food service industry. Therefore, Styrofoam is usually contaminated with food residue and would require cleaning before being processed for recycling. This factor results in increasing the costs and makes it less economically to recycle.

Is Styrofoam good for the environment?

It’s not good for the environment

Styrofoam may have many benefits in our life today such as lightweight, insulating, durable, and inexpensive, but the product also has many negative and harmful impacts.

Styrofoam is very slowly biodegrades in natural environment; up to 500 years Styrofoam. But it can photodegrade into small pieces or even turns into powder under UV rays from sunlight. This process makes it easier to get into the food chain in ecosystem as well as air pollution. And Birds or any other animals can eat Styrofoam, causing it to clog their digestive system and sometime resulting in death.

About 80% of marine trash comes from urban runoff, littering and landfills. The lightweight nature of Styrofoam makes it easily float across land or water and may ultimately end up in ocean.

The production process uses carcinogenic compound as styrene and benzene; both of which have been carcinogenic compounds, occupational exposure to these compounds carries increased risk of cancer for plant workers. They may be residually in the Styrofoam product that is used by consumers, and can leach into food at high temperature.

The process of Styrofoam recycling

Used Styrofoam is collected in large volume from retailers or end consumers and taken to be mechanically recycled. At first, waste polystyrene foam are heated to shrink volume, and then put them into the crushing machine, waste foam is broken up into small pieces. At last they go to extruder, extruding into polystyrene granules.

Styrofoam Alternatives

You know that how dangerous Styrofoam affect to the environment, we hope that you’ll consider replacing Styrofoam with more eco-friendly, reusable products instead:

1. Mushroom material

This material made from agricultural by products and mushroom mycelium that fill the empty spaces in the mold. In the end of lifecycle, it can end up in your garden and fully compostable in about 45 days. It is used in packaging industry as one of sustainable alternatives to EPS foam. The production process of this material use less energy than plastic Styrofoam, but takes longer time with average 7 days.

mushroom styrofoam

2. Straw material

This material is made of cleaned straw which is agricultural by product, the first sustainable alternative to Styrofoam in the packaging industry. It has the same performance with Styrofoam, but is disposable as organic waste. It is produced without any adhesives or plastics.

styrofoam alternatives


3. Agar plasticity material

Please click here to refer more detail

styrofoam alternatives

4. Areca Leaf

These products are made from leafs of tree which is in Areca genus. They are eco-friendly, biodegradable, disposable, compostable and natural

styrofoam alternatives

5. Leaf plate from Sal Tree

The product is made entirely from sustainably harvested leaves from Sal Tree

styrofoam alternatives




Real cost of Styrofoam – Presented to St. Louis Earth Day By Manu Chandra, Colin Kohn, Jennifer Pawlitz, and Grant Powell  – November 22, 2016