Home Depot Styrofoam Recycling
As of 2020, Home Depot began a new recycling program that aims to collect, reshape, and resell Styrofoam for use in a variety of insulation applications. This is a wonderful way to reduce the impact of this common problematic plastic material.
In this post we’ll talk all about Home Depot Styrofoam recycling – what Styrofoam (or “Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS) foam” more generally) is, how the recycling process works, how much Styrofoam they’re keeping out of the landfill, and how you might nudge them to broaden their collection process to customer-provided material.
Can I recycle styrofoam at Home Depot?
Unfortunately, this program currently only applies to styrofoam collected from within their operations. That’s bad for us as recyclers looking for a way to lessen our impact on the planet. However, it’s really good for Home Depot as an organization that they’re taking significant steps to reduce their footprint.
The styrofoam recycling program was started by Lindsey Tornello, the Sustainability and Recycling Initiatives Manager at Home Depot. Lindsey spent time at one of Home Depot’s many operational facilities and noticed something unusual. There was a garbage truck leaving the facility that was full but weighed very little.
A plan was formed
Following the truck, Lindsey soon discovered that the reason was that the truck was full of Styrofoam. Think of all the things on the shelves at a massive hardware store that are made of fragile materials. In order to get those items from the manufacturer to the distribution center to the retail locations without being broken requires padding! The back of a tractor trailer isn’t exactly a peaceful place, and moderate to severe jostling is to be expected. This is why SO many shipping boxes are filled with various forms of EPS foam to absorb bumps and protect the products.
Hence, 70-80% of the trash coming out of the facility that day was styrofoam. And all that styrofoam was going straight to the landfill!
Lindsey decided there had to be a way to avoid all this material being single-use. She soon devised a plan for a pilot project to collect the EPS, and use a machine to compress it under significant pressure into new blocks which can be resold. In addition to providing protection from impact damage, EPS also is good at providing protection from the elements. Due to its low density, it is a great insulator against heat, which is why it is so often seen as those white coolers that your drunk friend sits on and crushes at the beach every summer.
Home Depot can sell this recycled product to companies needing insulating materials, and ideally break-even, if not turn a profit, on the effort. And of course, they can truthfully claim that they are making an impact.
As of the latest numbers in 2020, there were over 20 facilities that have an installed compressor on-site. The initial pilot machines averaged about 16,000 pounds per year of recycled styrofoam. That is a massive amount when you think about how light of a material it is! By now, they should be preventing at least 370,000 pounds of styrofoam per year from reaching landfills.
Learn More about Home Depot’s sustainability efforts: Home Depot – 2023 ESG Report
Where can I recycle styrofoam?
Recycling Styrofoam can be a bit more challenging than recycling other materials, as not all recycling facilities accept it. However, there are still ways to recycle Styrofoam responsibly:
- Check with your local recycling program: Reach out to your city or municipality’s waste management division to find out if they accept Styrofoam for recycling, and if so, the specific guidelines to follow.
- Locate a specialized recycling center: Some areas have dedicated recycling centers that accept expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Styrofoam. You can search online for “Styrofoam recycling near me” or use resources like Earth911’s Recycling Locator (earth911.com/recycling) to find the nearest facility.
- Retailer take-back programs: Some retailers, especially those that sell electronics or appliances, may have take-back programs where they collect and recycle Styrofoam packaging. Check with local stores to see if they offer such a service.
- Mail-back programs: In some cases, EPS manufacturers or recycling companies offer mail-back programs where you can send your Styrofoam to be recycled. You may have to pay for shipping costs, but it’s an option to consider if no local facilities are available.
Remember that before recycling Styrofoam, it’s essential to clean and dry it to remove any food residue or contaminants. Also, be prepared to separate Styrofoam from other recyclable materials, as it typically needs to be processed separately.
When was styrofoam invented?
German apothecary Eduard Simon first accidentally synthesized Polystyrene, the polymer that Styrofoam originates from, in 1839. Polystyrene gained commercial popularity in the 1930s thanks to the Dow Chemical Company’s development of the expandable version known as Styrofoam.
The process of creating expanded polystyrene (EPS) involves heating solid polystyrene beads containing a blowing agent (usually pentane) to expand them up to 40 times their original size. After allowing the beads to age and stabilize, they are placed into a mold and heated again. This causes further expansion and fusion into the desired shape. Finally, the molded EPS product is cooled, removed from the mold, and prepared for use or shipment, resulting in the lightweight and versatile material.
How long does it take for styrofoam to decompose?
It can take hundreds of years, sometimes even up to a millennium, for EPS to decompose in the environment. The exact time frame depends on various factors, such as exposure to sunlight and local conditions. When it eventually breaks down, it doesn’t biodegrade like organic materials; instead, it fragments into smaller pieces called microplastics. These microplastics can persist in the environment, pose a threat to wildlife, and even enter the food chain, causing long-term ecological and health concerns.