Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Polystyrene foam recycling
Name: Rachael A Oflynn, Charlie H Bell
Status: Other
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

Our school has recycled polystyrene foam for the last two years. Now we are told that we have no one who wants to take it. Is polystyrene foam recyclable?
How can we find a place to recycle our lunch trays made of polystyrene foam?

Sure it is! First of all, you could reuse polystyrene foam cups and plates for another meal or drink! Secondly, once you separate the polystyrene foam products from other trash so they can be easily recycled, the polystyrene foam is shredded, dissolved in an organic solvent (like acetone, i.e.) and then blown into molds in the shape of cups and plates. This is not always cost-effective for companies which produce these products; that is why this is not a more widespread practice (along with, I guess, the reduction in the use of polystyrene foam products by conscientious consumers)


You could try calling Waste Management, Inc. (WMX Technologies) or Browning- Ferris (BFI), two major commercial trash collectors. If they do not take polystyrene foam, ask them why not. They will probably say because no one wants to buy the product after it is recycled so they would lose money if they tried to recycle it. When recycling does not work, it is a good idea to find ways to reduce the need for polystyrene foam. Ask your school lunch people and your Principal if your school could use paper trays that are recyclable, or durable plastic or fiberglass trays that are reusable. Another good reason to find a substitute for polystyrene foam trays is that ozone-destroying chemicals may be used in the polystyrene foam making process, so if you use less polystyrene foam, factories will make less polystyrene foam, and less pollution too.


Click here to return to the Environmental Science

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory