Styrofoam Recycling + Disposal

block styrofoam on white background

StyrofoamTM cannot be recycled in your home recycling cart. StyrofoamTM can be disposed in your garbage can at home.

You can recycle StyrofoamTM at special events and some collection locations, or through paid doorstep service; however, it is not a valuable material for recycling. If you have only a small quantity, we encourage you to dispose of it in your garbage.

StyrofoamTM Recycling Events

We will be holding recycling events that accept block StyrofoamTM occasionally. Events will not be on a regular schedule, but balanced with events for other materials with greater environmental benefits. We are no longer able to offer StyroFest style events; please return plastic bags to drop-off locations.

StyrofoamTM recycling events now have a user fee, so those who use the service pay for it. This aligns with our user fees for other expensive and difficult to recycle materials, such as mattresses and CFC appliances. Learn about the challenges and limitations of StyrofoamTM recycling below.

Sign up for email reminders about upcoming recycling events, or check our events calendar.

Other StyrofoamTM Disposal Options

Styrofoam is not accepted in your recycling cart at home. StyrofoamTM can be disposed as garbage in your regular trash can at home, or large quantities can be thrown away at the Houghton Transfer Station in Kirkland for a fee.

Free Drop-off Recycling in the Seattle Area

Free drop-off recycling is available in Kent.

If you only have a small quantity of material, we encourage you to throw it away rather than making a special trip to a distant location, or combine with another trip to the same area. That way you can minimize the environmental impacts of transporting the StyrofoamTM, which could be greater than the environmental benefit of recycling a small amount of material.

Paid Doorstep Collection

Ridwell provides doorstep collection of Styrofoam as an add-on to their recycling subscription service. Find other private recycling services at King County's What Do I Do With directory.

The Challenges of StyrofoamTM Recycling

StyrofoamTM is a challenging material to recycle. It is not a valuable material for recycling, so the cost to collect and process it is often more than the value of the recycled material. It also requires delicate handling to prevent pollution.

That's why there are so few recycling options available. Only one company in the Seattle area recycles StyrofoamTM. Their capacity sets a limit on how much foam the region can recycle.

Styrofoam is not worth a lot to recycle

StyrofoamTM is mostly made of air, so it only contains a small amount of plastic. It has to be melted down to get rid of the air before it can be sold to manufacturers that use recycled plastic.

It takes a lot of StyrofoamTM to make enough plastic to sell. A cubic yard of StyrofoamTM (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) yields less than 10 pounds of plastic. For comparison, a cubic yard of mixed plastic bottles and containers makes about 30-50 pounds of plastic.

For something to be recycled, the material must be used to make a new product. Manufacturers can choose between using new and recycled material to make their products. Plastic is made out of oil; when oil is cheap, it costs less to make brand-new plastic than to use recycled plastic. Low oil prices mean fewer manufacturers want to buy recycled plastic material.

Recycling Styrofoam in your cart ruins other recycling

StyrofoamTM can't be recycled in your cart because it breaks into tiny pieces. Those can't be cleaned out from other recycling, so it makes other materials harder to recycle and worth less. Other cities have tried curbside StyrofoamTM recycling but experienced significant problems.

Recycling Styrofoam next to your cart would be expensive for everyone

It is not currently possible to provide free StyrofoamTM recycling next to your cart. Waste Management would need an additional truck and driver to collect StyrofoamTM. We would need to increase garbage collection costs for everyone to pay for it. That would be unfair to people who don't have a lot of StyrofoamTM to get rid of.

The private sector currently offers a paid curbside collection service for StyrofoamTM. This user-paid option, through Ridwell, is available for people who want curbside collection service.

Recycling Styrofoam next to your cart could cause pollution

There are other reasons that collecting StyrofoamTM next to your cart is not the answer. StyrofoamTM is lightweight and breaks apart easily. Pieces could get blown or washed into our stormwater system from the drains in your street. From there, they would pollute the nearest stream or lake. The small pieces of StyrofoamTM would not be possible to clean up. StyrofoamTM is already a common problem on beaches and in the ocean.

Styrofoam recycling events are also challenging

Events are the only viable option for the City to recycle StyrofoamTM. However, there are many limitations on hosting events, so we can't offer them all the time.

It is very expensive to run StyrofoamTM recycling events. We pay a vendor to staff the events and transport and recycle the material. Costs have increased significantly over the years. It now costs six times what it did when we started to host these events.  

There is only one vendor in the Seattle region that hosts recycling events for expanded polystyrene. Kirkland's busy events have exceeded their capacity to serve. We worked with them on several ways to expand capacity, but have reached a limit.

StyrofoamTM recycling events require a large site so there's enough space for the line. The events have outgrown all available City facilities, and there are a limited number of large parking lots available to rent in Kirkland.

These events take a significant amount of staff time to coordinate and manage. They are the most time-consuming event we offer. Staff have a finite amount of time available, so there is a tradeoff between organizing these events and other programs that may provide greater environmental benefit.

So what should we do about Styrofoam?

Reducing how much StyrofoamTM is used is currently the best choice.

If you buy meat on foam trays, you could suggest to your grocery store that they switch to compostable trays. Encourage your favorite restaurants to choose other styles of takeout containers. When you shop, consider choosing products that will not come packed in StyrofoamTM, or purchasing items locally instead of having them shipped to you. Buying vintage and secondhand items reduces both packaging and overall environmental impact. 

In 2021, Washington State passed a new law (S.B. 5022) to reduce plastic waste and strengthen markets for recycled plastic. The policy bans the use of StyrofoamTM packaging in mid-2023, and StyrofoamTM food serviceware like takeout containers and foam cups in mid-2024.

Extended producer responsibility is a system that makes companies responsible for the waste that they make, including shipping and packaging. A system like that could reduce how much StyrofoamTM people receive. It could also lead to more,  better StyrofoamTM recycling options.

What's best for the environment?

Using less foam is the best choice. Unfortunately, the way products are packaged is usually out of the consumer’s control. However, there are valid reasons foam is currently used in much packaging. Foam is light and rigid, so it protects products during shipping while adding little weight. Lighter loads produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping products from breaking means all the energy and materials used to make them don't go to waste. Environmentally, it may be a worthwhile tradeoff to pack items in foam even if it gets thrown away. What happens to a material at the end of its life isn't always the best way to judge the best environmental choice.

Usually, it is best to recycle materials that can be recycled. But when all aspects of foam's lifecycle and the limits of the current foam recycling system are taken into account, throwing away StyrofoamTM is not currently a bad option. We do want to reduce how much waste people in Kirkland throw away, but StyrofoamTM is not a large proportion of most people's waste.

Putting Styrofoam in perspective

Our community cares a lot about the environment, and wants to recycle as much as possible. We're proud that our community is so committed to recycling.

Our current waste system makes consumers responsible for disposing of packaging. But, companies decide what materials to use in their packaging. Because companies don't have to deal with the waste, they might not prioritize using a material that's easy to recycle.

Unfortunately, the system for recycling StyrofoamTM is limited, so consumers have few options. It's frustrating not to have access to recycling services you want, especially when you have little control over what packaging you get. We encourage you to reduce your waste and recycle when possible, but keep in mind that our cradle-to-grave system for materials and waste determines what recycling services you can access. Looking at the big picture, StyrofoamTM is less important than other waste you can control.

StyrofoamTM feels like it should be a big problem in our landfill because it's bulky, but it only makes up 0.5% of the landfill by weight. In comparison, food makes up 22% of residential garbage by weight. When food is thrown away in the landfill, it releases methane gas.  Composting more of our food waste will have a bigger environmental benefit. Wasting less of our food is even more useful.

A lot of residents are already composting all their food scraps, and want to do more to help. The next big waste goal we have for the community is to make less waste overall. That means producing less garbage, less recycling, and less compost.

Learn about ways you can make less waste at your home