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Wal-Mart Canada Launches Styrofoam Recycling Initiative

styrofoam packing materialStyrofoam (or polystyrene) is nasty stuff: it lasts forever, can leach chemicals (especially when heated), and is really, really difficult to recycle. Wal-Mart Canada is launching an effort to address that last issue by partnering with Grace Canada (a division of W.R. Grace & Co.) to reuse styrofoam waste from packaging in the production of commercial insulation.

Wal-Mart and W.R. Grace? Some will certainly raise hackles in disgust…

Regardless of past issues, this looks like a very promising project. Wal-Mart has already shown real innovation with not only recycling packaging waste, but even turning it into a revenue stream.  According to the Environmental Leader article (linked above), “Grace Canada and its parent company W. R. Grace & Co. have recycled over 77 million pounds of foam polystyrene.” And styrofoam does have one thing going for it: it has great insulating properties.

Wal-Mart Canda views this as an “interim solution,” according to John Lawrence, director of corporate social responsibility. Long-term, the company wants to work with suppliers to eliminate these materials from packaging. As an interim solution, this looks like an effective means of leveraging styrofoam’s long life span and insulating qualities into a further environmental win: energy savings. My only question (and I look forward to your answers): would such insulation create air quality issues in buildings?

Written by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at

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  1. I presume you mean “expanded polystyrene,” not “Styrofoam” (the trade name of blue thermal insulation manufactured by the Dow Chemical Company). 😉

  2. @Nate much like Kleenex, Styrofoam really is almost ambiguous.

    The problem with "re-using" packaging styrofoam for insulation is that it will leave gaps, never fully sealing a surface (unless melted together somehow). Simply 2% of a wall being holes can reduce the insulative properties of EPS by as much as 80%. 2% really isn't much considering how many individual pieces of packaging will have to be strewn together.

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