Most foam #6 products can be identified by the resin identification code stamped on the material. Types of foam #6 are often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene foam made for thermal insulation and craft applications. The types of foam products that are accepted can vary between processing facilities. For example, many processors do not accept colored foam or foam that has been treated with flame retardants. Check with your recycling facility to confirm the types of foam that are accepted.
Foam cups and food service products
Foam #6 food service containers include drink cups, food trays and clamshell containers. Food service foam containers must be in recyclable condition. Coffee and soda cups do not need to be rinsed; however, containers used for food need to be wiped or rinsed.
Recycling is offered curbside in some communities. Some restaurants and other businesses collect foam cups for recycling by mail. In addition, some school districts have started recycling programs for foam #6 lunch trays and containers.
Foam packing peanuts
Packaging peanuts are made with a variety of materials. Some, but not all, packing peanuts carry the #6 recycling symbol. When combined with foam #6 products, non-EPS packing peanuts are a contaminant. For that reason, packing peanuts should not be commingled with other foam recycling.
The best way to recycle foam packing peanuts is to reuse them or donate them for reuse. Many local pack and ship stores gladly accept foam packing peanuts free of charge. Some cities also collect them to reuse or resell. Please contact your local post office or parcel service to verify if they accept packaging peanuts for reuse.
EPS packaging is often used to ship electronics, furniture and other fragile items – even fish. This rigid lightweight foam can be molded into any shape and offers excellent protection and insulation. Labels and tape must be removed from all foam packaging materials, as they can clog the contaminant prevention screens on extruders.
EPS can be recycled in communities that offer foam #6 recycling. Another option is to mail the lightweight materials to a regional center for recycling. Learn more or view a list of EPS mail-back locations. Note that some foam packaging may not be accepted due to contamination, as can be the case with fish coolers.
Foam medical coolers
EPS is used in medical coolers to keep vaccines and medicines at critical temperatures as they are shipped to hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices.
Some pharmaceutical companies offer mail back programs that enable hospitals and physicians’ offices to easily recycle medical coolers. In these programs, coolers are shipped along with pre-paid shipping labels for mailing the used coolers to recycling centers.