Styrecycle, a new recycling program on campus, helps people recycle one of the most ubiquitous waste products: Styrofoam.

Styrofoam is a great packing material because it is so lightweight, but the fact that it simultaneously takes up a lot of space makes it hard to recycle. Styrecycle seeks to change that. 

The program is sponsored by the U of I’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment (iSEE). Through support from grants, iSEE was recently able to purchase a Styrofoam densifier, which breaks apart and compacts Styrofoam, making it easier to transport and reuse. Community Resource, Inc. (CRI), a local commercial and industrial recycling firm, currently houses the densifier. After compressing the recycled Styrofoam, CRI sells it to a company in Chicago, which in turn sells it to be used in products such as surf boards.

Other campuses, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Washington University in St. Louis, have developed similar programs.

Here in Champaign-Urbana, Styrecycle offers several Styrofoam drop-off points. According to Marco Tjioe, an intern with Styrecycle and a graduate student in biophysics, these locations were selected with an eye toward major laboratories on campus, which receive large quantities of Styrofoam in the form of packing materials. 

Unfortunately, Styrofoam that has been in contact with food cannot be collected as part of the program at this time.

You can find a map of current campus Styrofoam recycling locations here.

For Tjioe, choosing to participate in Styrecycle emerged from a deep passion for recycling in general. He said that he has been a recycler for a long time and was involved in a Taiwan-based club that promoted recycling.

When he moved to Champaign-Urbana, he looked for ways to expand his local recycling options and came upon Styrecycle, which currently operates with the help of four interns. He noticed that while people are passionate about recycling in C-U, there is still room for people to learn more about where and how to recycle materials. 

“Here in Champaign-Urbana, the people who are passionate about recycling can find many ways to recycle,” said Tjioe. “There are many recycling stations in Champaign and Urbana and several good programs for recycling. On campus, there are many ways to recycle for office paper, and in the residential halls, places to recycle glass, bottles, and other materials are clearly marked. We also have a great re-use program on campus in the YMCA Dump and Run. So there are many programs and locations for recycling when people look them up and seek them out. But for people who don’t know much about recycling, or who don’t care about recycling, there aren’t enough avenues to expose them to the principles of recycling. We need more ways for people to become aware of and conscious about how they can protect the environment.”

The Styrecycle program seeks to address this issue by educating people about where and how they can recycle Styrofoam. According to Tjioe, plans are in the works to let people know about the new program during Quad Day. Signs around laboratories and other campus locations also inform people about where they can take their Styrofoam.

Tjioe hopes Styrecycle will expand in the months to come because, as he pointed out, recycling is “good in general.” He and others at Syrecycle hope that recycling Styrofoam will become the future norm for C-U.