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How long does it take for Styrofoam to degrade?

Currently, in our day to day we end up discarding waste that originates from single-use products (plastic cups, cardboard or plastic straws, Styrofoam trays, wrappers …). The materials used to make these products are different, some examples are cardboard, different types of plastics or styrofoam (also called porexan, cork, white cork, foam, etc.) In this AgroCorrn article, special attention will be paid to Styrofoam or Styrofoam.

Have you ever stopped to think how many disposable plates and cups made with Styrofoam have you used throughout your life? Where does all the used Styrofoam go to pack all the electronic devices so that they are not damaged in transport and storage? Continue reading this interesting article, where we explain how long it takes for styrofoam to degrade and what is the environmental impact it has and, in addition, it will show how to recycle styrofoam and also how to reuse it.

What is Styrofoam

Styrofoam is a material made from a petroleum derivative known as expandable polystyrene , which is a foamed plastic that has a blowing agent called pentane. This material is used for packaging any product of any size or shape and also for packaging perishable foods, keeping the products fresh thanks to the fact that the material is very hygienic and does not contribute to the development of microorganisms.

Other applications it has are for construction due to its light weight, high resistance, low thermal conductivity (insulator) and low water absorption, among other properties. Likewise, due to its resistance, its lightness and its high rate of absorption of impact energy, it is also used in the manufacture of child seats to place in the car and sports helmets.

How long does Styrofoam take to disintegrate?

Do you know how long it takes for polystyrene to degrade naturally ? It is estimated that prexpan or Styrofoam takes approximately 500 to 800 years to fully degrade.

It is for this reason that its reuse and recycling are so important, although it would be best for the environment not to use this material, since oil continues to be depleted and pollution occurs in various ways. In fact, in more than 70 cities in the United States, its use is already prohibited.

Environmental pollution by Styrofoam

Knowing how long it takes to degrade, we are going to comment on the environmental impact of Styrofoam . The production of polystyrene or white cork is done on a massive scale. For example, in countries like Mexico up to 125 thousand tons are consumed annually and 25% is destined to manufacture disposable products used in the food industry [1] .

Non-renewable natural resources are used for the manufacture of Styrofoam , since, as we have said, its manufacture is due to polystyrene, a plastic derived from petroleum . Therefore, in its production process, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are emitted into the atmosphere and the sources of oil continue to be exploited, which are limited.

Among other environmental impacts caused by Styrofoam, we find that the products made with this material are very bulky and most end up occupying large spaces in landfills, since their recycling is almost zero. Also, when the Styrofoam ends up in the sea , it decomposes into little balls and these into microplastics that end up being digested by animals, sometimes causing their death. Here you can learn more about What are microplastics: definition and types

How to reuse Styrofoam

Before moving on to recycling waste, it is better to give it a second life by reusing it. Here are some tips for reusing Styrofoam .

  • With some Styrofoam containers, we can make our own frame to place photos or even a mirror. The styrofoam would replace the main base of the frame, which is normally made of wood, and you can decorate it however you want.
  • For lovers of Christmas decorations, with the white disposable Styrofoam cups, which are normally used to drink coffee outside of an establishment, a beautiful and original snowman can be made.
  • With the Styrofoam trays you can make object guards and for this you need two trays. One of them is left whole and the other is cut in half. The half that has been cut is glued on top of the entire tray, making it coincide at one of its ends. We stick one tray with the other and there will be a hole where you can store whatever you want. It can be painted and decorated to give it a more personal touch.

Can Styrofoam be recycled?

The Styrofoam is 100% recyclable and is deposited in the yellow container , as the recovered materials can be used in many applications. Although it can be recycled, the problem lies in the lack of awareness about recycling in some citizens and in the lack of enough recycling plants to manage it properly.

If you wonder how to recycle the Styrofoam , this is the process once you have separated it from the rest of your waste and have deposited it in the yellow container :

  1. Collection of waste made with Styrofoam, free of liquids, food waste or other types of plastics, to be transported to the recycling plant for said material. If the styrofoam is not clean, you must clean and remove anything that does not work (tapes, plastics …)
  2. The material is introduced into a thermodensifying machine, which applies heat to the Styrofoam waste to extract all the air it contains (95%), leaving only the polystyrene (5%).
  3. Once the polystyrene is obtained, it is allowed to cool until a block is obtained.
  4. The resulting block can be used to make other products such as pellets.

As you have already discovered how long it takes for styrofoam to decompose and more details about this petroleum-derived material, you may now be interested in continuing to know the degradation time of many of the materials that are waste and end up in nature:

If you want to read more articles similar to How long does it take for styrofoam to degrade , we recommend that you enter our Recycling and waste management category .

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Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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