Can Packing Foam Be Recycled?


As companies define their internal sustainability strategy, they also look to their partners to see how their strategies align.

As a custom protective packaging company, we often get one question from companies undertaking this process: “is it recyclable?” 

Well, it turns out the answer isn't as straightforward as you might think. Recyclability isn’t the only indicator of a sustainable solution.

Can Packaging Foam Be Recycled?

Yes - kind of, sometimes.

On the production side, our pure foam products can be recycled - foam is a plastic-based product, so it can often be recycled. However, if foam is permanently combined with glass or other materials in the fabrication process then it can’t be recycled. 

That being said, there are a lot of foam applications that can be recycled. Foam Industries uses recycled product whenever possible and we recycle 99% of our post-industrial waste.

► Related Content: Learn More About Our Sustainability Initiatives

The difficulty lies on the consumer end. The truth is that foam recycling is not as widely adopted as glass and plastic recycling. In some metro areas, foam can be placed directly into the recycling bin. To see where this is an option, the FPI has an interactive map you can use. However, this isn’t an option in some areas. 

Furthermore - even in the areas where foam is accepted for recycling, the consumer may not even realize it’s an option! This leads to foam ending up in the garbage bin after the package is opened. 

Our solution is manual but important: we ask our clients to help educate their end users. We have a free notice you can use with your customers’ invoices and/or shipping emails:

Please help us (and the environment) by recycling the foam pieces that came with your package whenever possible. To find out if your county accepts packaging foam in curbside recycling, use this interactive map: Find Where to Recycle Foam. Thank you!

We understand why people ask about recycling, but it’s not the only way to ensure something is sustainable. 

The Path to Sustainability: Choosing the Right Solution the First Time

One of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact is to ensure your products arrive intact. It’s not uncommon for companies to pick easily-recycled materials like paper over other packaging options in the name of sustainability – and while that can be effective for some products, it’s not for all.

If your product isn’t properly protected in transit with the right packaging materials, it’s likely to arrive damaged. A damaged product means needlessly repeating the entire packing and shipping process, which creates more waste.

Each damaged product that has to be replaced has the following effects, on average:

  • 01 pounds of methane gas emissions
  • 01 trees
  • 13 square feet of natural habitat lost
  • 8 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity
  • 1,697 British thermal units (BTUs) of heat produced
  • 7 gallons of fuel
  • 10 pounds of solid waste in landfills
  • 4 pounds of carbon dioxide gas emissions

(Source: Pregis)

If you’re sacrificing protection and risking a damaged product in the name of sustainability, it’s not very sustainable at all.

► Related Content: 5 Ways to Improve Sustainability With Foam

When it Comes to Sustainability, We’re Shredding it 

Packaging foam has a lot of untapped and underutilized potential when it comes to sustainability. While end user recycling adoption is not at the same level as paper or metal (yet!) – picking packaging foam drastically reduces damaged products, which in turn reduces environmental impact and strain. This makes foam an excellent choice to meet your sustainability requirements.

Want to learn more?

Contact a Packaging Expert

Foam Industries is a custom protective packaging company specializing in foam – with additional wood and plastic fabrication services. Our custom foam fabrication services are ideal for any type of packaging, display, or support service needed – from design to finished product.

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