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Can Styrofoam Be Recycled In Singapore? Read This Guide First

A concern has become increasingly important in today's world, where environmental sustainability is a top priority, and that is, can Styrofoam be recycled? Styrofoam, also known as Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), is a common packaging material, but its recyclability is a subject of concern.

In this guide, we will explore the possibilities and challenges of recycling Styrofoam in Singapore and delve into the understanding of its recyclability.

Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

You cannot recycle Styrofoam in Singapore. Styrofoam, or Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), is widely used due to its strength, lightweight properties, and effectiveness as an insulator. Commonly found in coffee cups, food takeouts and protective packaging, Styrofoam presents a recycling challenge.

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a type of plastic that consists of styrene monomers. Styrene monomer is a colourless or yellowish liquid derived from flammable hydrocarbons – compounds containing hydrogen and carbon. These monomers are flammable and potentially harmful to health.

Interestingly, styrene is not just present in synthetic products; it's also found in natural sources like cigarette smoke and is produced when rubber, gasoline, and certain foods are burned. Exposure to styrene can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or direct skin contact.

Why Is Styrofoam Difficult To Recycle?

Styrofoam presents several challenges when it comes to recycling, making it a problematic material for waste management. Here are the key reasons why Styrofoam is difficult to recycle:

High Transportation And Storage Costs

EPS is made of 98% air, which makes it extremely bulky and often oddly shaped. This leads to inefficiencies in transportation and storage since a significant amount of space is required for a relatively small amount of material. 

When compressed, the yield of EPS material is much less than expected, making the recycling process not cost-effective.

This issue was worsened during Singapore's circuit breaker or lockdown period, where an additional 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste was generated by households, in which a significant portion of this includes styrofoam materials. 

Unlike glass or cardboard, recycling polystyrene foam at a cost-effective scale is challenging, leading some recycling centres to send it to landfills, with an estimated 2.3 million tons of polystyrene foam ending in landfills yearly.

Environmental Issues

Styrofoam poses significant environmental challenges. In landfills, EPS can take up to 500 years to decompose, potentially leaching chemicals into the environment.

Its lightweight nature means it can easily be carried by wind and water, contributing to pollution in coastal and marine ecosystems. This harms wildlife and worsens the broader issue of plastic pollution in water bodies.

Contamination Issues

Another major issue in recycling Styrofoam is contamination. Styrofoam is porous and can easily absorb substances such as food, drinks, and chemicals, making it difficult to clean for recycling.

And since recycling requires materials to be cleaned before they can be processed into new products, Styrofoam's tendency to trap contaminants and harbour bacteria renders it unsuitable for recycling.

Potential Health Concerns

Besides the recyclability of Styrofoam, it is also believed to be a carcinogen as it has styrene, the primary component of Styrofoam. 

Styrene has been classified by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) as a substance "reasonably anticipated" to cause cancer, with links to nerve damage and hormonal disruption. 

This classification is particularly relevant in occupational settings where workers are exposed to higher levels of styrene, such as in the manufacture of plastics and rubber. 

Additionally, the chemical has been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including leukaemia and lymphoma, as reported in studies focused on workers exposed to styrene. 

While the levels of styrene that leach from polystyrene containers used for food products are very low, the cumulative exposure over time, especially in hot, oily or acidic food conditions, raises concerns about its safety and carcinogenic potential​.

Chronic exposure might result in more severe effects like depression, headaches, fatigue, hearing loss, and disrupted kidney function, according to the National Toxicology Program.

Other Ways To Dispose Of Styrofoam

When it comes to disposing of Styrofoam in Singapore, it's important to understand the best practices due to the material's non-recyclable nature.

Disposing Styrofoam As General Waste

In Singapore, Styrofoam should be disposed of as general waste. General waste, also known as trash or rubbish, is symbolised by the "Green Bins," which may not always be green but serve the same purpose. 

If Styrofoam cannot be recycled, upcycled, repurposed or reused, the final option is to place it in the general waste bin. Depending on your location, public or private waste collectors handle general waste collection, sending it to waste-to-energy plants for incineration. 

For detailed information on general waste disposal facilities in Singapore, including recycling facilities, you can refer to the list provided by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Upcycling Styrofoam Containers

An alternative to disposal is upcycling. For instance, old Styrofoam coffee cups can be transformed into handy little organisers. Once cleaned, they can be used to sort small items like screws, nails, pins, and paperclips, helping to organise drawers or tool spaces efficiently.

Crushed Styrofoam can also be repurposed as protective packaging material, as a cushion for fragile items during transportation or storage. This approach not only extends the life of the material but also reduces the need for new Styrofoam production.

Conclusion: Can Styrofoam Be Recycled In Singapore?

Recycling Styrofoam faces significant challenges due to its bulky nature, contamination issues, and potential health and environmental concerns. Given these hurdles, Styrofoam is not typically recycled but rather disposed of as general waste or upcycled creatively.

So, it's essential to explore sustainable alternatives to Styrofoam and reduce its usage. We can contribute to a greener and more sustainable future by embracing eco-friendly materials and practices.

At Semula, we understand the importance of sustainable practices in waste management. As a plastic upcycling company, we are committed to conserving and refreshing our environment. 

Our initiatives, such as Upcycling/Sustainability Workshops, Recycling Talks and partnerships with local businesses, are crucial in promoting sustainability in waste management.

For those interested in learning more about our initiatives and how you can contribute to a greener future, we invite you to engage with our team of environmental advocates. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in conserving our natural resources and creating a sustainable environment.

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