The moment of truth happened again yesterday.
We just bought a new printer from Staples (our old one just stopped working). Now I had a new printer — PLUS the box it came in — AND all the Styrofoam packaging (soooo much waste)!
The box went straight into recycling (of course). But what do I do with the Styrofoam? Does it go in the garbage, the blue bin, or should I burn it in the fireplace?
It ends up that the answer to this question depends on where you live in Canada.
Read on! Today, I'm diving into the complex world of Styrofoam recycling...
Why is Styrofoam Recycling so Difficult?
Styrofoam is Bulky:
CBC reports "a 16-metre-long trailer filled with 85 cubic metres of Styrofoam, can be compressed to half the size of a kitchen fridge". If not compressed, Styrofoam occupies a lot of space, making it inefficient and costly to transport for recycling. Not to mention the carbon footprint!
Styrofoam is Dirty:
Food and drink residues on Styrofoam containers & cups can contaminate the recycling process, requiring extra cleaning and processing. The good news is that Canadian restaurents and food packagers are reducing, if not eliminating altogether, Styrofoam food packaging as a result of this new federal law.
Styrofoam is Not Profitable:
Increasingly, Styrofoam is less economically viable for recycling centres to process compared to other materials, like cardboard.
Styrofoam is Not Easy to Recycle:
Styrofoam can easily break into small pieces, complicating the sorting process and potentially contaminating other recyclables. This is also why Styrofoam balls found in packaging are typically not recyclable through curbside programs. The balls are also too small to be sorted properly and can contaminate other recyclables.
Where can I throw out Styrofoam in Canada?
First, whatever you do, DO NOT throw your Styrofoam packaging waste in the fireplace! Burning Styrofoam releases large amounts of Carbon Monoxide into the environment which is bad for your health!
Okay then — should you be throwing out Styrofoam in the trash or toss it in the blue bin?
Turns out, there's no easy answer. How you recycle Styrofoam depends on your location in Canada, and even then the guidelines are not consistent from city-to-city. Read on...
The West Coast: Is Styrofoam recyclable in British Columbia?
Yes it is, but they sure don't make it easy!
In Metro Vancouver, residents can't throw Styrofoam in their home recycling bins anymore, even though it's not allowed in landfills.
Instead, British Columbians need to make sure their Styrofoam is clean — and then haul it to a free drop-off depot in the province that has the capability to recycle the Styrofoam.
The Prairies: Is Styrofoam Recyclable in Calgary?
Calgary's Blue Cart recycling program and community recycling depots do not accept Styrofoam. Calgary recommends you to dispose of Styrofoam in the black cart as garbage.
Edmonton has been showing a stronger effort to divert Styrofoam from landfills. In 2022 alone, Edmonton diverted 35 tons of Styrofoam from landfills and properly disposed of it. Now, Edmonton's website allows you to search the recyclability of specific items.
Central Canada: Is Styrofoam recyclable in Toronto?
Yes, the City of Toronto accepts certain types of Styrofoam in its Blue Bin recycling program. This includes items like foam food and protective packaging (e.g., plates, cups, egg cartons, takeout containers, meat/fish trays). However, you must empty and rinse food/drink packaging, and Toronto does not accept black foam items.
The Atlantic Region: Is Styrofoam Recyclable in Nova Scotia?
In the Atlantic region, the rules of recycling Styrofoam are also not consistent.
In Nova Scotia, the recycling of Styrofoam containers and packing peanuts is heavily encouraged.
The North: Is Styrofoam Recyclable in Yellowknife?
How do I recycle Styrofoam?
The takeaway message here is that it's hard to know what to do with our Styrofoam waste. We found it difficult to track down all the answers! Plus the guidelines are always changing.
The best approach to managing Styrofoam waste is to REDUCE its use, REUSE it where possible, squash Styrofoam to make it easier to dispose of, and seek out recycling options if available.
If we did not mention your province here, a quick google search will do the trick. Simply search up — can I recycle Styrofoam in (your city) — and google will provide you (hopefully) with the current guidelines.
Remember, while recycling Styrofoam can be a puzzle, every small step towards proper disposal or reduction makes a big difference for our planet.
Stay informed, stay eco-conscious, and thank you for giving the planet hope!