How to Recycle PS (Plastic #6)

Learn how to recycle PS plastics and do your part to keep the environment clean.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling PS (Plastic #6)
Recycling PS (Plastic #6) / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

With a reputation for being hard to recycle, polystyrene, or PS plastic, is another type you should be worried about if you want to clean-up your waste bin and keep plastics from the environment. Used for foam cups and plates, as packing material, in CD containers, and even toys, PS plastic is everywhere, but recycling options are few and far between. Never fear, however. Ecolife has the best recycling PS tips to get you sorting these plastics out of your rubbish pile and into the recycling stream.

Environmental facts about plastic #6

True, polystyrene is a lightweight plastic that requires less energy to make and transport, but it still comes with a few environmental woes that will make you want to think twice about using it in your everyday life:

  • Aliases: Known alternately as polystyrene, PS, foam, expanded polystyrene (EPS), or by the trademark “Styrofoam.”
  • Consumption rates: PS has a high consumption rate that is projected to increase over time. However, recycling rates have also increased a fair bit and the EUMEPS has pledged a 46% recycling rate by 2025.
  • Pollution: Polystyrene plastics are incredibly lightweight (made of primarily air) which means they’re prone to landing in wild spaces and the ocean where they pose threats to wildlife and natural ecosystems.
  • Human health: There are concerns that styrene from polystyrene food containers can migrate from the foam into the food or beverage, posing health problems for those consuming the product.
  • Decomposition: As with most things in landfills, polystyrene doesn’t generally biodegrade over time. Instead, it just forms a lumpy mess that can form leachate and pollute groundwater as a result.

Where you find plastic #6 in your home

Though packing peanuts are perhaps the quintessential plastic #6, they are by no means the only type. Consider, for instance, these PS plastics you may find in your home:

  • CD and DVD cases and video cartridges
  • Electronic housing
  • Food service items – cups, plates, bowls, takeout containers, meat trays, yoghurt pots, egg cartons
  • Medical products
  • Medicine bottles
  • Packing material – furniture, electronics, shipping containers, loose fill (packing peanuts), protective covers for toys and electronics
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Toys
  • Vending cups

What recycled plastic #6 becomes

Recycling PS plastics is less common than some other types, but when it is recycled, it can be made into a whole range of new products:

  • Casings for electronics – cameras, video cassettes
  • Desk trays
  • Foodservice items – foamed egg cartons
  • License plate frames
  • Light switch plates
  • Packaging material – expandable polystyrene foam (EPS)
  • Plastic mouldings – architectural
  • Rulers
  • Thermal insulation
  • Thermometers
  • Vents

Tips for recycling PS

Some cities today now pan polystyrene foam from being used (including San Francisco) for food service which have been effective to reduce PS plastic use, but usually result in an increase in other food packaging waste. Regardless, if you encounter foam plastic in your life, you’ll want to know how to recycle it:

  • Curbside recycling: Though rare, some curbside recycling collection programs will accept polystyrene for recycling. If you’re one of the lucky ones, rejoice!
  • Drop-off programs: In some communities, PS plastic drop-off programs now exist where you can take your foam waste to be recycled. Call around to your solid waste management office to see if they know anything about such programs.
  • Mail-in programs: Some companies now offer a way for you to mail in your PS plastic waste. And since its often incredibly lightweight, it shouldn’t cost too much! Check out our recycling database for recycler listings for foam products as well as CD and DVD cases.