Is Thermocol Biodegradable?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: May 7, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Did you just buy a piece of furniture that came in protective plastic packaging? Then you’ll want to know if thermocol is biodegradable and if it isn’t, what you should do with it.

Thermocol is not biodegradable. It is made from polystyrene – a petroleum-based plastic compound. 

Now that you’ve seen that thermocol is not biodegradable, you are no doubt wondering what the right way of disposing of it is. Find out everything you need to know about this material coming up next.

Does Thermocol Decompose?

Thermocol is great for protecting fragile items. It is lightweight and easy to clean. This makes it a really popular option for the transportation of goods. 

Perhaps you have just purchased a bulky or fragile item for your home. Are you now inundated with thermocol that you are not sure what to do with? 

Straight off the bat, you might think of putting your thermocol into your compost bin. But let’s state that that is not a good idea. 

Thermocol is not biodegradable and does not decompose. So, if you were to put it on your compost heap, it would sit there for decades. Why doesn’t thermocol decompose? Here are a few reasons:

  • Thermocol is made from a petroleum-based plastic compound called polystyrene. Thermocol is manufactured out of expanded polystyrene beads. Polystyrene itself is not a biodegradable product and as a result, thermocol is not either. These are synthetic materials.
  • Thermocol needs to be burned in extreme temperatures and in a controlled environment. Only in certain extreme conditions are you able to break the material down quickly. The right amount of moisture and oxygen is also key to its decomposing.
  • Thermocol takes decades to break down completely in natural environments. Some scientists estimate that it could take hundreds of years for it to decompose.

Is Thermocol Bad for the Environment?

You can find thermocol in packaging and in transporting large and even small, fragile goods. Disposable drinks of tea and coffee are often distributed in thermocol cups. You can even see it used to carry food such as fish and meat and keep them fresh during hot weather. Because thermocol is so widely used, you may wonder how it impacts the environment.

So, let’s start by clarifying that thermocol is not good for the environment. Here are a few reasons why. 

  • Thermocol is non-biodegradable. It takes decades or even hundreds of years to break down naturally. This makes it a big contributor to pollution.
  • The breakdown process of thermocol can only be sped up when it is placed in a controlled environment. This environment needs to have very high temperatures. It also needs to have the right amount of oxygen and moisture. This is an expensive process that wastes a lot of energy and resources.
  • Breaking down thermocol means burning it. While thermocol burns, it lets off harmful gases into our atmosphere. These gases have been known to contribute to the development of certain cancers. Some of the gases released while it burns are carbon monoxide and styrene vapours. It goes without saying that anyone in an environment like this is at risk.

Is Thermocol 100% Recyclable?

Ok, so we’ve already seen that thermocol is not biodegradable, so sticking it on your compost heap is a big no go. But what about recycling it? Is thermocol recyclable? 

Thermocol is 100% recyclable. This is because thermocol is a plastic and all plastics are recyclable. But there are a couple of things you should be aware of when recycling thermocol. Here’s a list of them. 

  • Thermocol often needs special recycling. This is because thermocol can contaminate other materials during the recycling process. It needs an area dedicated to the recycling of thermocol only. This way it can be dealt with properly. This means specific temperatures will be used on the material to avoid polluting the environment more than necessary.
  • When you recycle thermocol, you need to pay attention to what your local authorities say about this material. Some counties will allow you to put thermocol in with your plastic recycling waste. But most would prefer if you could take the material to a dedicated thermocol recycling center. This is especially the case if you have large amounts of it. This helps your county to clean and then recycle large quantities of the material at once.

Why Thermocol Is Called a Non-Biodegradable Substance

Thermocol is called a non-biodegradable substance because it cannot decompose under normal circumstances. Naturally occurring materials and microorganisms cannot help this material to break down. 

Another reason why thermocol is non-biodegradable is because of the amount of time it takes to decompose. Scientists are currently unsure of how long it would take for thermocol to decompose completely. But most estimates are anywhere between decades and hundreds of years. This material has a large carbon footprint and is a big contributor to pollution.

Thermocol is also classed as non-biodegradable because it can only break down quickly when it is in a very specific environment. This environment consists of very hot temperatures. In order to break thermocol down it has to be burned. Burning it does damage to the environment as it releases harmful gases into the atmosphere. These gases are dangerous for all of us and our ecosystem.

Thermocol is also non-biodegradable because it accumulates. It takes such a long time to decompose that a lot of thermocol waste builds up in a small amount of time.

Final Thoughts

You’ve just enjoyed a hot beverage in a thermocol cup and now you’re wondering, is thermocol biodegradable? What should I do with the cup? As you have seen in this article, thermocol cannot biodegrade. If left on a compost heap, it would not begin to break down for decades or even hundreds of years. 

The best thing to do with thermocol is to try to limit how much you use it and recycle it wherever possible. That way, we can all do our part for a greener planet earth and protect our health and that of our families. 

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