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Polystyrene Foam Recycling Incentivized by Investment, Innovation

A one-two punch of industry grants and supplier innovations is expanding recycling options for expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Rick Lingle

November 14, 2023

3 Slides

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), also known as polystyrene foam, is a versatile and lightweight plastic. One key market for EPS is in packaging, where it’s used widely for take-out foodservice and to provide product protection for ecommerce shipments. EPS is also an essential material in the construction business, among numerous uses within these markets and in many others.

Although EPS is valued for its low cost, buoyancy, moisture resistance, and insulating qualities, it’s generally derided for the plastic’s environmental impact and lack of recycling infrastructure of much consequence.

However, through the Foam Recycling Coalition of the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), that’s changing grant by grant.

“Eating out or on-the-go is a regular part of the American culture,” says Natha Dempsey, president, FPI. “Ensuring take-out containers are manufactured responsibly and recovered effectively are priorities to FPI members. That is why we have invested in sustainable, long-term efforts dedicated to quantifying, communicating, and improving the recycling of foodservice packaging.”

You’ll find below a list of seven 2023 to-date grants from the Foam Recycling Coalition sorted by date (most recent first) along with amount, location, and project description.

The other half of the equation is through innovation, in particular upcycling via depolymerization of polystyrene. The accompanying slideshow highlights three recent PlasticsToday articles related to depolymerization innovations in recycling polystyrene through the diverse options of light and enzymes, pyrolysis, and microwaving.

 

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$50,000 for PS foam densifier for Geauga-Trumbull Counties, OH.

The Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District (SWMD), serving over 121,000 households in Geauga and Trumbull counties in Ohio, received a $50,000 grant from the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC). The grant enables nearly 300,000 residents in both counties to recycle materials such as foam polystyrene cups, plates, bowls, clamshells, egg cartons and meat trays, as well as block packaging foam.

The FRC grant assisted with funding the purchase and installation of a foam densifier, used to compact foam products into foam blocks or ingots. The district sells the foam ingots to end markets to be manufactured into thermal insulation panels for foundations, walls, and roofs, as well as picture frames and crown molding.

Residents of the 56 communities making up Geauga and Trumbull counties can take their polystyrene foam to either the Trumbull County facility or a new facility in Geauga County, where it will be processed through the foam densifier.

“The new Geauga collection facility is the culmination of over five years of planning and efforts from residents, community officials and county government,” said Jennifer Jones, director for Geauga-Trumbull SWMD. “Over 6,800 residents have already taken advantage of our recycling services there, and adding foam recycling will only enhance our ability to meet the needs of Geauga and Trumbull County residents. Foam recycling has been highly requested and will be a great addition to the year-round offering at both of our collection facilities.”

Geauga-Trumbull SWMD is the 33rd grant recipient to receive FRC funding since 2015.

More than 10 million additional residents in the US and Canada can recycle foam polystyrene because of FRC grants.

See the October 26 FRC release for more information.

 

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$38,000 in new equipment boosts PS foam recycling in Albuquerque, NM.

ABQ Foam Recycling/The Foam Recycler, a polystyrene foam recycling service in central New Mexico, received a $38,800 grant from the FPI’s FRC to fund the purchase and installation of a foam densifier.

Densifiers are used to compact #6 foam products, such as cups, plates, clamshells, egg cartons and block packaging foam, into foam blocks or ingots. The facility sells the densified foam ingots to end markets in California, New Jersey, and Canada to be manufactured into picture frames, light switch covers, crown molding and electronic cases.

ABQ Foam Recycling/The Foam Recycler services a population of almost 1 million people in metro Albuquerque through a drop-off location, community events and commercial pick-up service.

“We are looking to not only lead in recycling polystyrene foam materials in New Mexico, but also serve as educators on recycling these materials,” said Tom Spadafora of ABQ Foam Recycling/The Foam Recycler. “Repurposing foam materials and keeping it out of landfills is our top priority.”

Residents and businesses in the metro Albuquerque area will see the service promoted via local municipality partnerships, social media, local publications, neighborhood associations, and other local and regional engagements.

See the September 12 FRC release for more information.

 

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Densifier enables polystyrene foam recycling in High Point, NC.

The city of High Point, NC, received a $50,000 grant from the FPI’s FRC that enables the city’s 117,000 residents to recycle polystyrene foam materials.

The grant assisted with funding the purchase and installation of a foam densifier at the High Point Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

Residents of High Point, as well as the neighboring communities of Jamestown and Archdale, can take their polystyrene foam to drop-off locations with trailers.

“Residents have already shown a positive response to recycling polystyrene foam,” said Rebecca Coplin, beautification supervisor for the city of High Point. “The two trailers collecting foam with the Tiny House Community Development are replaced once per week, 10-20 drop-offs per week are received at the MRF, and an influx of foam from the High Point Furniture Market is seen twice per year. As we get the word out, we expect an increase in residential drop-off activity that will benefit the recycling of foam and other materials.”

High Point’s public information office will inform residents about the addition of foam polystyrene recycling via communications, including posters, printed materials and the city’s website and social media. The MRF offers tours, information booths, and educational programming that will include messaging on recycling polystyrene foam.

See the August 1 release for more information.

 

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Cook County, IL, densifier extends recycling options to polystyrene foam.

A Cook County, IL, project received a $50,000 grant for a densifier to add foam polystyrene recycling to the new Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) Center in South Holland on the South Suburban College campus outside Chicago.

The CHaRM Center is centrally located near 53 communities with over 268,000 households in Cook County that have the lowest recycling and diversion rates, including 37 municipalities below the median income and 33 municipalities that are designated Environmental Justice areas.

“Cook County is proud to partner with South Suburban College to establish a permanent recycling facility for all Cook County residents,” said Anthony Tindall, solid waste coordinator for Cook County. “The County is grateful to the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s Foam Recycling Coalition for this funding to further recycling efforts across the region. Expanding the types of foam polystyrene collected at the CHaRM Center to include food products will help keep even more waste out of landfills and ultimately create a healthier environment for all residents.”

The County will promote the polystyrene foam recycling program via mailers, flyers, community events, social media and on its website.

See the June 29 press release for more information.

 

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L to R: Reenee Casapulla, Foam Cycle; Jason Leib, Mount Prospect Public Works Deputy Director; Sean Dorsey, Mount Prospect Public Works Director; Kristina Jakupovic, Administrative Superintendent,  Mount Prospect Public Works Department.

New densifier for Mount Prospect, IL, launches PS foam recycling program.

The Village of Mount Prospect, IL, received a $50,000 grant from the FPI’s FRC that enables residents to recycle polystyrene foam materials.

The FRC grant assisted with funding the purchase and installation of a foam densifier at the Mount Prospect Public Works facility.

Mount Prospect is a member of the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC), an intergovernmental agency of 23 communities. The drop-off center is open to all communities within SWANCC.

“We are continually reflecting on our programs to ensure the residents of Mount Prospect are provided with the most economical and ecologically sound options,” said Sean P. Dorsey, director at Mount Prospect Public Works Department. “The inclusion of foam recycling to existing recycling programs will be extremely beneficial to the Mount Prospect and SWANCC member communities.”

See the April 11 press release for more information.

 

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Mecklenburg County expands recovery of foam polystyrene to full-service recycling center.

Mecklenburg County, NC, took the next step in growing the county’s recycling program with the help of a $50,000 grant from the FPI’s FRC. All four of the county’s four full-service recycling centers can include collecting post-consumer polystyrene foam including foodservice packaging.

The FRC grant assisted with funding the purchase and installation of a foam densifier.

“The county’s full-service recycling centers have seen customer counts increase 51% from 2019 to 2022 — driving our efforts to expand our recycling infrastructure and identify new recycling and waste diversion opportunities,” said Jeff Smithberger, Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Director. “The demand for foam polystyrene recycling and availability of end markets has created a viable opportunity to launch a new recycling program with help from the FRC grant.”

The county has collected more than more than 10,000 pounds of EPS since the collection program kicked off on November 2022.  Since then, the county has added a second densifier, at the Tire and Metal Recovery Facility to handle the volume.

See the February 22 press release for more information.

 

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University of North Carolina Wilmington expands PS recycling.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s demand for recycling services has markedly increased since the start of the recycling program in 1989. What began with a five-person operation has expanded to include collections, hauling, and processing capabilities with an on-campus hand-sorting material recovery facility and drop-off center known as The Depot. The university expanded the polystyrene foam recycling capabilities to meet increased volumes with the help of a $9,627 grant from the FRC.

The funds purchased four containers to collect the increased volume of polystyrene foam. Also, a second EPS densifier donated to the university doubled the capacity to process foam, including packing blocks, coolers, peanuts, foodservice containers, egg crates, and meat trays.

“99% of all foam collected at UNCW comes from off-campus via drop-off at either our MRF or The Depot. As well as receiving material from the public, we partner with local businesses to process their foam,” said Feletia Lee, chief sustainability officer with UNCW Business Services. “UNCW is looking to expand our relationships with the city and county to target foam in their operations.”

See the January 24 press release for more information.

 

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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