Expanded polystyrene foam, sold under the brand name Styrofoam, can be most simply defined as air and plastic. Like any plastic, Styrofoam does not easily decompose and can cause harm to the environment and wild animals that may eat it. It is also not easy to recycle, as most counties do not allow residents to place it in with other recyclables for residential pick up. However, with modest effort, you can dispose of your Styrofoam in an environmentally friendly manner.

Step 1

Remove all debris and food from the Styrofoam. Only clean Styrofoam can be recycled.

Step 2

Separate the Styrofoam from other recyclables. Keep a large bin or other storage container available that is dedicated to Styrofoam disposal.

Step 3

Check your county's website or call for Styrofoam recycling information and facility location. If one of these facilities is available in your county, deliver the Styrofoam to it. Most counties, however, do not have a Styrofoam recycling program, in which case you will need to try other options.

Step 4

Find a local expanded polystyrene foam drop-off center. The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers keeps a list of drop-off centers around the country. The Plastic Loose Fill Council has drop-off centers specifically for Styrofoam peanuts. See the Resources section for website links.

Step 5

Mail your Styrofoam to an AFPR collection center for recycling. See the Resources section for locations.

Step 6

Donate your Styrofoam to a school or arts and crafts group. Turning something potentially harmful to the environment into something appealing and creative is an added bonus to keeping Styrofoam out of a landfill.

Step 7

Crush it down to granules to mix with potting soil as an aerator and to help with water drainage. Be sure to do the crushing in a utility area, as it is a messy process. Do not do it outdoors; it will blow away very easily and become virtually irretrievable, hazardous litter.

Step 8

Store it in your home or office for reuse as packaging material, if you are a frequent shipper. You can easily break up large pieces as necessary. Giving Styrofoam a second (or third, etc) life reduces the need for new Styrofoam production. Remember the green living motto: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Step 9

Throw the Styrofoam in the trash as a very last resort. Although it is not the environmentally wise thing to do, it is not a restricted item and there are no legal requirements to recycle it.