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STYROFOAM overload! - can I run it thru a wood chipper to make my own "perlite"?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 33
Location: Douglas County, WI zone 4a 105 acres
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What with the house burning to the ground and needing to replace everything, appliances, etc; and my son outfitting a wood and metal-working shop - we are inundated with Styrofoam AND cardboard. We got a great deal on an almost new Earthquake "hammermill" chipper, and I've been going like crazy on the cardboard. We figured it was a multipurpose item: chipping brush, shredding cardboard, and hopefully smashing charcoal - so a worthwhile infernal machine!
I'm wondering now if I should try chipping some of that Styrofoam? If it came out pretty fine, it might be like perlite - I could use it in a greenhouse setting ... But, I realize it would eventually end up in the environment. It's in all those weird, "pocketed" shapes - can't figure out how to use it for insulation, etc. I'm also wondering about how to use those flexible foam sheets.
Gonna post with pix about my cardboard shredding/chipping in a different thread, but I might could put it here if you're interested. No access to leaves/other carbon source for compost piles/beds until Fall of 2019 - so cardboard is going to be mixed with spoiled hay, manure, sod, etc. THANKS for suggestions on Styrofoam!    
 
pollinator
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Just so you know perlite is not shredded styrofoam. I believe it is basically jet puffed rock dust slurry. I would think if you were looking to make it into insulation then you could run it through your chipper and use the resulting fluff as something like blow in. Or you could just cut it at the corners and have a bunch of odd shaped panels of it. I would not put ground up styrofoam into my soil, I tend to avoid perlite, they aren't the same thing. I don't know what to do with all the plastic we accumulate, I wish you the best of luck and would love to hear what you do end up doing with it.
 
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stephen lowe wrote:Just so you know perlite is not shredded styrofoam. I believe it is basically jet puffed rock dust slurry.


FYI It's actually super-heated volcanic glass - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlite
 
gardener
Posts: 1504
Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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I agree, this isn't something you'd want to shred and add to soil.

However, as in this thread ( mealworms eating styrofoam), what is suggested as a possible safe way is to feed it to mealworms, where their digestive microbes will break it down and then feed the mealworms to the chickens.

The thread is quite back and forth on varying opinions. But, best to weigh out both sides before doing something that would be very hard to undo if you happen to be regretful at any point later.
 
pollinator
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Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
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I don't think I'd use it in soil, but there are a few things you can do with shredded styrofoam.  You can mix it with cement and make lightweight concrete that provides reasonable insulation, and you can also use it like blown in insulation on walls and ceilings.  However, I wouldn't recommend using it as blown in insulation for your home, if it ever catches fire it will put of some really toxic fumes.  
I know you're not planning on burning your house down, but then  (as I'm sure you know) most house fires aren't planned.

I don't think your chipper would work very well, styrofoam bits tend to fly around instead of falling, however, it is really simple to build a shredder designed just for styrofoam.  You could use the beater bar from an old vacuum cleaner, or use a large dowel with screws or nails sticking out (leave the heads on).  Fix it so that it spins in a slot on a board, or even make a funnel shaped feed like is on your chipper.

Something similar to this
 
pollinator
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Location: Derbyshire, UK
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Be careful- birds will sometime seat styrofoam and it can't be very good for them! The bits are also really light and tend to blow around. I certainly wouldn't be adding it to my soil!
 
Posts: 75
Location: NRW/Germany
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There are few things more annoying than styrofoam bits. They stick to everything and fly everywhere. I wouldn't dream of making them intentionally. If i had to, i would want to wear full body protection. My daughter on the other hand loves playing with it - which can sometimes lead to dispute...
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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All you'd make is a great big mess.

I like a lot of what I read currently about mycoremediation and the ability of some fungi to adapt to break down almost anything. I think maybe if styrofoam could be used as a substrate for, say, oyster mushrooms or something, I would still want the mushrooms grown off the styrofoam tested before I even add them to the soil, never mind feeding them to anything, but that might be a way to convert styrofoam into soil amendment.

There might be other good ways to benefit from the styrofoam as insulation, but I would advise in strongest terms to keep it out of the environment unless it has been broken down. The chipped cardboard, with adhesives and dyes included, will eventually be dealt with by healthy soil life, so I would suggest inoculating with a compost extract, but the styrofoam won't even remain in place. If you break your styrofoam down into tiny particles, they will leave your property, whatever steps you take to prevent it.

-CK
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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Location: Douglas County, WI zone 4a 105 acres
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THANKS, everyone! We havn't come up with anything yet - actually my son is laughing at me!  I knew it wasn't the same thing as perlite - I'm not going to "chipperize" it - the mealworm idea seems creepy AND potentially toxic - he says we have no use for "air-crete" ... so, I'm flummoxed so far
 
pollinator
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I just Googled "How long does it take for styrofoam to biodegrade?"

Answer:  Absent of light, it takes up to a million years to break down.  If exposed to UV light, it will turn to powder in a few years, but in a landfill, it will last forever.

https://sciencing.com/long-styrofoam-break-down-5407877.html

I'd rather not have that in my soil forever.  Its not digestible, so it will not pass through the digestive track of an earthworm or other critter and decompose.  It will remain out in the environment for millennia, a choking hazard, an inert chunk of stuff that does nothing other than occupy space.  

There is debate over whether styrofoam leaches chemicals into the environment the way other plastics do as they break down.  This is debated.  Again, I'd rather not have it out there in my potting mix while the debate rages on.

It's crazy that people are allowed to manufacture and distribute a product that does not break down and will remain in a landfill for, basically, eternity and not be required to take a deposit on it and have it returned.  We can make coffee cups out of paper.  30 years after McDonalds finally went to paper "clam shells" for their burgers, why are stores still selling styrofoam coffee cups and restaurants still using it for beverages?  Crazy.
 
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