Styrofoam Recycling & Disposal

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam plastic is often called StyrofoamTMEPS cannot be recycled in your mixed recycling cart or at Kitsap County waste facilities, but it can be recycled through special collection events, private recycling businesses, or paid doorstep services. 

Unfortunately, EPS is not a valuable material for recycling. If you only have a small quantity, we encourage you to dispose of it in your garbage.

Foam recycling events

Kitsap County occasionally holds foam collection events, but we can no longer offer them on a regular schedule. Learn about the challenges and limitations of EPS recycling below.

To learn of upcoming events, sign up for email reminders or visit our events page

Other foam disposal options

Please bag EPS to prevent litter, and place it in the garbage. Dispose of small quantities as garbage at home or bring large quantities to a waste facility. Foam is not accepted for recycling at home or at waste facilities.

Drop-off recycling

Drop-off recycling is available in Kent or TacomaFees may apply. 

If you only have a small quantity of foam, we encourage you to throw it away or combine your trip to a recycle site with another purpose. Research shows that taking a special trip just to recycle foam can be more harmful to the environment than simply throwing it away. This is because of vehicle emissions and fuel usage.

Paid doorstep collection

Ridwell provides paid doorstep collection of EPS for recycling within their services areas. This company has plans to expand to parts of Kitsap County.


The process of foam recycling

Recycling EPS requires careful handling, special machinery, and physical labor. After it is collected, private recyclers feed the foam by hand into a machine that pulverizes and compresses the foam. The compressed foam is cut into small blocks that are sold to a manufacturer that reclaims the polystyrene for use in manufacturing products such as picture frames. The reclamation and manufacturing typically happens in Malaysia or Southern California.


Challenges of foam recycling

EPS is a challenging material to recycle. It is not a valuable material for recycling, so the cost to collect and process it is often higher 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 to consumers. 

 Foam has little recycling value

EPS is mostly made of air, so it only contains a small amount of plastic. It must be compressed to remove the air before it can be sold to manufacturers that use recycled plastic.

It takes a lot of foam to make enough plastic to sell. One cubic yard (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.

Recycling only works if a manufacturer is willing to buy the material. Manufacturers can choose between using new and recycled material to make their products. Plastic is made from 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.


 Foam recycling events are challenging

Events are currently the only way Kitsap County can recycle EPS. However, there are many challenges to events, so we can't offer them all the time.

EPS collection events are expensive. It now costs fifty times what it did when we started to host these events in 2017. To afford one foam event in 2024, we will organize a second event to collect valuable recyclables (scrap metal and electronics). The value of metal and electronics will offset the cost of foam.

Only two companies in the Seattle area recycle EPS, and only one provides services in Kitsap County.

We collect EPS indoors to prevent litter caused by this fragile material. We also need a large site to accommodate event traffic. We receive twice as many customers today than when we started offering these events. This limits our collection to the Fairgrounds.

These events take a significant amount of staff time to coordinate and manage. Since we only have a finite amount of time, it's better spent focused on more impactful materials like food waste.


 Foam in your recycling cart ruins other recycling

EPS 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 locations have tried curbside foam recycling but experienced significant problems. Curbside foam collection also causes litter.


 Future of foam recycling in Kitsap County

We have received requests to install an EPS densifier in Kitsap County, but we are not currently considering this. This machine compresses foam into blocks, which makes transportation easier and cheaper.

If Kitsap County recycles foam at the same rates as Tillamook County, Oregon does today, we could expect to receive 202 tons of foam per year. However, the volume of foam available in future years has high uncertainty. Several brands including Walmart have implemented or announced plans to eliminate use of this material. Additionally, Washington state has recently banned several types of foam.

A private recycler currently operating in Kitsap County has previously stated their intention to open a local EPS drop-off center. This company is better equipped to handle this challenging material, and Kitsap County supports their plans.

Kitsap County is not eligible for a densifier grant due to Washington's EPS bans.


 Putting foam in perspective

Our community cares about the environment and wants to recycle as much as possible, and that's something to be proud of. We encourage you to reduce your waste and recycle, when possible, but keep in mind that EPS is less impactful than other types of waste.

EPS 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.

Consumers don't often have choices about the type of packaging used. Yet consumers (not companies) are asked to be responsible for the financial and physical burden of managing this waste. Since companies don't have to deal with the waste, they may not prioritize recyclable packaging. And many companies choose to use new plastics instead of recycled plastics, which means they aren't buying back the packaging they create.

However, there are valid reasons for using foam packaging. Foam is light and rigid, so it protects products during shipping while adding little weight. Lighter loads produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. When products are kept from breaking, all the energy and materials used to make them doesn't go to waste. Environmentally, it may be a worthwhile tradeoff to pack items in foam even if it gets thrown away.

It's frustrating when convenient recycling options don't exist for materials you didn't ask to receive. But we encourage you to focus instead on choices you can control, like how much food you waste at home. When food is thrown away in the landfill, it releases methane gas. Composting more of our food waste to keep it out of the landfill will have a bigger environmental benefit than keeping foam out of the landfill. Wasting less of our food is even more beneficial.

 Related Links

 Styrofoam Bans

In June 2024, foam containers, plates, bowls, clam shells, trays, cups, and portable coolers will be banned from use or sale in Washington state. Learn more about EPS bans.