Polystyrene, But Not Styrofoam? Recycling Questions Answered


Questions arose around the WMEAC office recently about recycling expanded polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam or EPS, via the City of Grand Rapids’ single stream recycling service. The confusion came about because Styrofoam is one of the items the city explicitly prohibits residents putting in their curbside recycling bins, even though plastic polymers 1-7 are accepted, including polystyrene (#6).

Non-expanded polystyrene is used in a variety of items: protective packaging like CD and DVD cases, laboratory equipment like petri dishes and test tubes, along with disposable items like razors, silverware, cups, and food containers. Expanded Polystyrene is a different form of the material with a foam-like consistency used for packing materials, insulation, and disposable food containers.

I contacted James Hurt, Public Services Director for Grand Rapids, who indicated that since the Kent County Recycling Facility did not accept expanded polystyrene, the the city could not accept it either. Hurt was kind enough to put me in contact with Dennis Kmiecik, Solid Waste Division Director for the Kent County Department of Public Works. Kmiecik informed me that Kent County’s recycling program doesn’t collect expanded polystyrene due to several factors:

“1) Markets were not available, 2)Collection systems were not in place and people would not clean the EPS when collected, 3) EPS requires a great amount of space and handling before being sold, 4) When the county decided on single stream, considering the space limitations we had, it was decided that EPS was one of the items that would not be included in our system.”

Grand Rapids area residents have multiple options for recyling their EPS, two of which can be found in the City of Grand Rapids Recycling FAQ.  Residents living in downtown Grand Rapids, Heritage Hill, or Eastown may find Treehuggers convenient, although customers with large loads may be charged a small fee.

2 replies
  1. Ben Scott-Brandt
    Ben Scott-Brandt says:

    Pretty please: Could you update this post? It’s still not clear to me which food packaging items are EPS and which are Polystyrene #6. The link to GR Recycling FAQ is old and no longer works. Trying to recycle egg cartons and my family is divided! Lol. Thanks.

    • Ericka Popovich
      Ericka Popovich says:

      Thank you for reaching out about recycling! Since recycling options vary by location and company, we recommend you contact whichever company you use for recycling pick-up directly to confirm what is and is not accepted. Many companies will also have information on their website. You can stay up-to-date on what is and isn’t accepted in Kent County on their website – reimaginetrash.org. On the main page they have a recycling search option where you can type in whatever you are hoping to recycle, like ‘egg cartons’, and information will pop up as to whether it is accepted at the Kent County facility and if not, where you can take those items for proper disposal.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *