Getting Rid of Styrofoam Packing Molds

Unfortunately, getting new electronic equipment usually means ending up not only with the boxes but also fairly large chunks of molded styrofoam packing.

I unpacked two gadgets this weekend and when I went to throw away the styrofoam I found that the four big pieces would take up nearly two thirds of my trash bin. Even chopping them up, no easy task, only reduced them to a third of the trash can and I didn’t have that much room left. 

So, I made napalm. 

Gasoline solvates styrofoam. The packing styrofoam in a computer box is maybe a half cup of styrene bubbled into a foam. Dumping gasoline on the styrofoam dissolves the styrofoam and collapses the foam into its original volume. 

Why napalm? Because polystyrene was the original thickening agent in WWII era napalm. Sounds dangerous but it’s not inherently explosive and is less flammable than gasoline, especially when you make it in a thick, clay-like consistency. 

Here’s how: Work in a well ventilated area, preferably outside. Line a trash can of any size (I used a small indoor one) with a heavy-duty plastic trash bag. (Trash bags are made from high-density plastic and gasoline does not dissolve them.) Break up the styrofoam and fill up the bag to the top of the trash can. Sprinkle a quarter to a half a cup of gasoline over the styrofoam. Close the top of the bag to keep in the gas fumes. (If you have a lid that is even better.) Let sit for an hour. The styrofoam will dissolve to less than a quarter of its original size. Keep feeding in styrofoam and adding a quarter cup of gasoline roughly once an hour until all the styrofoam is gone. Then take the bag and work it to redistribute the gasoline around the styrofoam in the bag. Let it sit overnight and you will end up with a softball sized mass of styrofoam/napalm with a dense clay-like consistency. You will have maybe a quarter cup of gasoline still liquid. 

I recommend transferring it to a disposable sealed container because the naked napalm giving off gas fumes in a closed trash bin is a bad idea. I used a plastic instant-coffee jar. Just reach in the trash bag and pull out the clay-like mass and shape it fit in the container. You can dispose of the leftover gasoline separately, pour it in the container or just let it evaporate. (Not good for the air if you live in a dense urban area.) If you leave the polystyrene exposed to the air in a ventilated place, the gasoline will evaporate and it will turn into a hard solid mass. 

If you’re so inclined, you can keep it in a sealed container and use it as a kind of molding plastic. 

In any case, you collapse several cubic feet of styrofoam into a couple of cups of polystyrene. This saves room in trash bin and the landfill or you can recycle it. Most recycling centers won’t take styrofoam due to its bulk but in its deflated form it is easily recycled. 

You can do this with any form of styrofoam such as cups, shipping peanuts and floats. Have fun. 

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