Although the Alliance of Foam Recyclable Packaging reports that the recycling rate of EPS by commercial consumption and production in the US increased, this is still higher than most solid waste.
According to the USEPA, car batteries, steel cans and glass containers have recycling rates of 96.2%, 70.6% and 34.2%, respectively. Because EPS foam is large, it requires more storage space and transportation costs, but it provides very little polystyrene for reuse or disassembly. This provides little incentive for recyclers to consider additional resources for recycling EPS.
Products that have been used to store food must be thoroughly cleaned for hygienic reasons, which increases costs. For the same reason, these products cannot be recycled into the same food container, but used for non-food plastic products.
Therefore, new polystyrene is always needed in the manufacture of food containers. It is now more economical to manufacture new EPS foam products than to recycle them, and manufacturers prefer fresh, higher quality polystyrene over recycled.
Meanwhile, for all of us, we can start reducing our Styrofoam consumption by using reusable products, such as bringing our own coffee cups and food containers to stores that provide EPS foam foods and drinks. Small changes in our lifestyle can have a big impact on the environment.