Categorized | Energy Education

Answers To Your Trickiest Recycling Questions

Posted on 14 March 2016

One of the sad truths about recycling is that not all materials are as easily recycled as others. One of those materials is polystyrene plastics; best known as Styrofoam, the plastic poses a number of problems when it comes to being recycled, so much so that most places are happy to boast a mere 15% recycling rate.

While there are some reasons that it is hard to collect, not the least being its light density and ubiquity, it can be somewhat easy to recycle. Nonetheless, polystyrene recycling centers are still fairly rare, meaning recycling polystyrene foam could be far easier if the resources were used to create recycling centers that were available to everyone.

The Problem

Polystyrene has a number of qualities that make it an ideal material for its use. When the plastic is first extruded it is done so in a way so as to make it 95% air. This not only makes it a lightweight material but also a near-ideal insulator. The lightweight aspect makes it ideal for a wide range of uses, ranging from plates to peanuts for packing, but it also makes it difficult to collect; after all, if it is not stored securely it can easily fly off and become litter.

This also means that the processing facilities need to be closed off or the plastic will fly out of the bin as the plastic is crunched down. The other problem because the plastic is so part of regular life, and the facilities themselves are so rare, the vast majority of plastic pieces are not collected for recycling.

The Process

Polystyrene has one other problem: It is extremely dirty. Because it is used for so many things, a lot of those uses get the plastic dirty, be it for garbage, food, or other uses. Because of this, once it has been transported to the proper facilities, the first part of the process is to clean the plastic; once the plastic has been cleaned and dried it can then be crunched down and the recycling process began.

Unfortunately, this is not an efficient process, given the sheer amount of water required, and can be messy as the recycling process requires chemicals in order to break the plastics down. That combination can create its own problems, but most polystyrene plants are built to deal with those problems.

The Solution

Just as there needs to be more facilities built, which both decreases the amount of mileage and its resultant pollutants, but more material also needs to be collected. Scientists have been developing bacteria that can effectively break down the plastics, so the need for chemicals has been decreasing.

All of this combined should make the job of polystyrene recycling centers far easier and more efficient, allowing for a great amount of the material to be recycled, and thus making the planet far cleaner as well.

Comments are closed.