Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a common insulating material that has a bad reputation. EPS is notorious for how long it takes to biodegrade and its difficult recycling process. For buildings, EPS is a commonly used insulation solution.
For facilities striving to be green, it’s important to exercise good source control and follow through with best practices when you are replacing insulation. Are you able to recycle EPS?
Inconsistent Laws on EPS Recycling
There is little consensus when it comes to the recyclability of EPS materials. Municipalities are split down the middle on this issue.
New York City passed a ban on recycling EPS products in 2017 as the city's Sanitation Department deemed it’s impossible to recycle the material economically. However, the ban is focused on “food-service foam” and makes no reference to any kind of building insulation.
So if you see that your locality has passed a ban on recycling EPS, you may not be disqualified from recycling old EPS insulation. If an EPS recycling ban is being discussed in your community, identify the limits and whether they affect your EPS recycling needs during an insulation retrofit or replacement.
Conversely, San Diego’s city council decided against an EPS ban. The city has instead opted to incorporate EPS into their waste management and recycling programs. The city joins 56 other cities in California embracing the recycling of EPS products.
It’s hard to define the future of EPS recycling. As the industry moves away from products that are difficult to recycle, it’s unclear whether companies will develop efficient and inexpensive recycling processes for EPS. In the meantime, it’s best to plan ahead if you are replacing EPS.
If you are planning to replace your insulation and want to recycle any EPS insulation boards, see what kinds of rules your community has (check at www.epsindustry.org). If it isn’t prohibited, speak to your local waste management provider to learn how you can best recycle your old EPS.