Styrecycle: A Lighter Step Towards Environmental Sustainability

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a group of students who are focused on environmental sustainability and waste reduction, and they have fittingly decided to start with something light in order to lessen their carbon footprint.

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is the name of the group and they have started recycling expanded polystyrene, widely known as “Styrofoam” (a trademark of the Dow Chemical Agency). In light of the foam bans that are being proposed around the United States, iSEE’s initiative has been aptly named Styrecycle, and it has been tremendously effective on campus. The Styrecycle program’s motto is “Collect, Condense, Conserve.”

There are drop off locations set up across campus for students to place products made out of Styrofoam. From there, select members of iSEE are tasked with picking up the recycling bins once they are full and bringing them to a holding location. Recycling Styrofoam isn’t as easy as recycling metal and paper products because most items made out of Styrofoam are light in weight and don’t bring in many profits to recycling companies.

Fortunately for the students of iSEE, they were able to purchase a grant funded expanded polystyrene densifier. This densifier grinds up the expanded polystyrene so that as much recyclable material as possible is available for pickup time for the recycling company, making the delivery trips more worthwhile.

Community Resource Inc. (CRI), a local recycling company, operates for free for the University picking up and selling the recycled expanded polystyrene to a local Chicago business that makes surfboards out of the recycled expanded polystyrene. This process is purely environmentally focused since it may be more economical for the surfboard maker to use other sources to make his products, but it is definitely much better for the environment to go about it the Styrecycle way. This is a program that the students hope will expand to not only garner campus wide participation from all faculty staff and students, but they hope this initiative catches on throughout the entire Urbana-Champaign community.

Programs like Styrecycle ( have the potential to create a tremendous shift towards a more sustainable environment since so much expanded polystyrene is used on a day to day basis from cups to take out plates to shipment box packaging and more. The following is a list of other colleges in the United States that have also begun recycling expanded polystyrene: Washington University, University of Wisconsin, and the University of Colorado.

Recycling expanded polystyrene may not seem like much of a big deal for some, but the behavioral shift towards waste reduction that the students of iSEE have instilled throughout their campus community is anything but small.

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