Styrofoam — that squeaky little devil material that we all love to hate — is technically recyclable. But it’s recyclable in the same way that cod liver oil is edible — we can do it, but who the hell wants to?
As Sophia Cai from Chemical & Engineering News explains in the video above, we could recycle styrofoam — or rather, expanded polystyrene (styrofoam is actually a Dow trademarked material not used in consumer products) — but we don’t, because it doesn’t make economic sense.
1. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is usually wet and gross after people inhale its greasy contents, so recycling facilities would have to wash it before processing.
2. More than 95 percent of EPS is just air, so it takes up a ton of space and then only yields about 40 percent of its original volume when processed.
3. Only about 1 percent of the 250 million tons of municipal solid waste in the U.S. is EPS, so there’s just not enough of it to merit a devoted recycling stream.
Which is to say, it makes more economic sense for a place like NYC to outright ban EPS food containers, rather than try to recycle them.
And let’s be honest — recyclable or not, people are still going to hate EPS, because ultimately, it will get thrown out and hurt the environment. That said, the video is still worth watching if for no other reason than because when Cai talks about McDonald’s banning those notorious clamshell Big Mac containers back in 1990, she introduces us to this little nugget of marketing gold. Everyone, meet Mac Tonight: