How can I reuse or recycle styrofoam containers?

Styrofoam containerWe’ve had an email from Renee, who left just about a billion re-use suggestions around the site a couple of weeks ago (thanks Renee!):

How can I reuse Styrofoam cuts/containers and things? I don’t buy anything that comes with this junk but find it by the road and on the beach all of the time. I’d like to re-use it in some useful way.

I’m presuming that Renee means the stuff like type of “clam-shell” styrofoam containers that most major chain fast-food restaurants stopped using a few years ago (…I think – correct me if I’m wrong) but which are still used by a lot of independent take-out food places.

While researching this post, I found there is a lot of more eco-friendly starch/sugar-based clam-shell packaging around these days – but based on my experiences with take-out places around here at least, the nasty plastic stuff is still pretty common. So any re-use ideas?

(On a related subject, we’ve already covered flat-ish meat/veg trays & shaped fruit ones that are usually made of styrofoam or something similar, and other foam-like packing materials.)

(Photo by, coincidentally, another Renee, Renee Comet)

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22 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle styrofoam containers?”

  1. Renee says:

    from yet another Renee

    I use the polostyrene foam clam shells for germinating seeds. They are about the size of a 1/4 size seed tray and come complete with their own little cover.

    Must remember to make some holes in the bottom.

  2. Sara says:

    I’ve seen really cool necklaces made by punching out about 1/4 inch (maybe a bit smaller) circles (or whatever shape you like) and stringing them together, flat sides together. The necklace ends up looking like those puka shell necklaces.

  3. me says:

    As this seems to be the bulk of my trash I have decided to wash them out, save them and decorate them to give little gifts away in.

  4. jenni says:

    hello u can make a flying aeroplane all u need is on of these boxes the longer ones are better cut out 3 shapes the shaft, little wings for the back and big ones for the middle then make 2 slots to slide the wings in paint your plane slot it all together and finally put a paper clip on the nose to add weight and help fly.

  5. CTP says:

    i save all my polystyrene/styrofoam packaging and use it as insulation in my house. depending on shapes/sizes, it can be used as-is, or broken down into peanut size packing to fill smaller voids.

  6. Miriam says:

    1. You can cut into simple fun shapes and use as x-mas decorations……

    2. packing peanuts for shipping

    3. bracelet…..use a 3/4 ” circles…….make hole in middle…..when you have enough…..will make a nice thick bracelet

  7. John says:

    Insulation is a good second use, but the material needs to be flat to be efficient. The profiles can be used as packing when posting items (maybe an Ebay sale or gift) add a note to encourage the recipient to reuse it again. The same material is used for coffee cups, chip trays and is often found in pizza boxes too.

  8. emily says:

    i am an art teacher at a local boys and girls club, we make crafts with everyday items like these and there are endless possibilities for styrofoam. bring them to your local art and crafts centers, to schools or to the boys and girls club. i know i would love to have them for our projects.

  9. Robert Castillo says:

    How about taking your own to go container to those restaurants that still use the old style styrofoam.

    • eb says:

      Thats the most practical solution I ‘ve read online while researching this subject the last 2 hours. Thank You

  10. Dolly says:

    We found someone nearby that raises chickens. We give them our foam egg cartons. They encourage people to reuse the cartons as well.

    • CATHY says:


  11. sami says:

    you can shrink them like shrinky dinks. cut out sections (or you could shrink the whole thing…) and color with permanent markers. a hole punch makes holes that shrink to an ideal size for jewelry making. put in an oven at 325-350 degrees and watch carefully. when the shapes stop moving, and are laying flat again, take them out. the fumes are probably toxic so work with lots of ventilation. sometimes they fold over on themselves while shrinking… usually it will fix itself but you can quickly move it back with a butter knife.

  12. Bruce says:

    We wash out our styrofoam containers and have been collecting them in a large garbage bag. Recently I had the inspiration to toss them up in the unfinished area under our roof as added insulation. If they keep food hot then they should help keep the heat in our living area too.

  13. Hans Hartwig says:

    Check with local recyle depot as they are recyclable

  14. Tina says:

    I work with kids and one project we do is make monoprints- you can cut a flat section out of the foam, draw a design with a dull pencil or ball point pen then paint a light coat of paint over it- press onto white or colored paper and lift off gently and voila- a print- remember to have them write their names or any words backwards as it will be in reverse- a little tricky- good luck!

  15. eb says:

    I’m thinking feeding these through a shredder would open up endless possibilities of a new material or at least a more pliable form. Even as simple of bean bag type filler?

  16. Lenses says:

    Wow, these are such good uses! I especially like the insulation tip :)

  17. BW says:

    Recycling Floss Containers
    These are great to use to cut thread or lightweight yarn if you do not have a scissor on hand. They are small enough to keep in a sewing bag.

    Flat Styrofoam
    Great to use for patterns. You never have to cut a pattern out of your book. Just trace the pattern on to the styrofoam. Cut out the styrofoam. Put together your model (e.g. airplane, etc). They make great tree ornaments too!

  18. Steve says:

    Styrofoam as a home insulation sounds like a terrible idea – isn’t this stuff very flammable?! And I swear I witnessed some mice eating some of it this winter. (Besides, there is a new mycelium-based insulation coming to market.)
    Giving it to a school for crafts was an neat idea for a few seconds; then I thought that would only slow its course to the dump for a few months at best; unless they were built for long-time use.
    Converting it to glue was a better idea; but just how much glue can I use around the house? (Maybe the schools & craft centers could use extra glue – but is the glue itself toxic?)
    Could it be pureed and added to ferrocement for crafts?
    A bean-bag or little heat-seat for cold days watching football would be nice!
    (I guess it would be best to find ways to never buy the stuff at all.)

  19. Steve says:

    Also, I’ve heard that some styrofoam food containers contain that “anti-sticking” chemical crap. “Polytetrafluoroethylene” (PTFE)

  20. Linda says:

    Break stryrofoam into small pieces, and send it through the blender! You now have stryrofoam beads, ready to stuff your next project.

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