Focus on Materials: Foam Packaging

The Multi-Material BC (MMBC) residential packaging and printed paper recycling program accepts foam packaging used to package household electronics and appliances or food, for example egg cartons; trays for meat, seafood, or vegetables; or take-out containers. This foam is lightweight and provides protection for its contents, and is often referred to as polystyrene or the brand name “Styrofoam”.

This foam packaging is accepted for recycling at all MMBC depots. It should not be placed in curbside or multi-family collection containers as it breaks and crumbles easily during the collection process. The broken pieces are difficult to separate from other recyclables and this mixture of materials is incompatible with the recycling process, meaning that neither the foam nor the other materials can be recycled properly.

Preparing your foam for recycling

Please remove any plastic wrap, leftover food, tape, labels, or anything that isn’t foam from your foam packaging. At the depot, plastic foam must be sorted into white and coloured. This is because these two categories behave differently in the recycling process. Foam packaging that is mostly white but has coloured specs or ink printed on it belongs with coloured foam.

Once separated, the foam is compressed so that it can be shipped to a material re-manufacturer, where it could become picture frames, park benches, and more.

No squishy foam, please

There are other types of foam packaging in use, but these are not accepted in MMBC’s program as they are incompatible with current recycling processes. You can tell the difference between the foam packaging that is accepted and not accepted in a few ways. First, if the foam snaps when you try to bend it, it is accepted. Second, if the foam is easy to squish, is a bag, or is flexible wrapping, it’s not accepted.

Packing peanuts are often made from cornstarch, and are therefore not accepted. Foam noodles, pillows, mattresses, or other furniture are products and made from different foam than is accepted. Similarly, foam insulation is a product and the chemicals applied to it are hazardous for workers and incompatible with the recycling process.

Key points to remember:

  1. Recycle firm foam packaging only (no squishy or flexible foam or foam products) and only at a depot
  2. Remove tape, labels, and anything that isn’t foam
  3. Sort into coloured and white