New video investigates the recycling of PS and EPS

Dart Container Corp. and Moore Recycling Associates have released a new short video that makes the business case for recycling polystyrene (PS) and expanded polystyrene (EPS). The partners produced the video as part of a plastics industry effort to raise awareness and help decision makers and operators of materials recovery facilities (MRFs) understand that there are practical options for adding this material to their collection and processing streams.

Moore Recycling Associates has been investigating the question for more than a year, and the company says that it's become increasingly clear that it makes good economic sense for curbside recycling programs to accept EPS. "What's especially interesting," said President Patty Moore. "is that most of the problems we anticipated-the stuff is too bulky and too light, it'll wind up all over the MRF, there won't be enough of it to be worthwhile, there'll be too much of it to fit in the bins-those haven't turned out to be problems at all."

During the video, host Todd Sutton, the Waste Sleuth, visits Burrtec's West Valley MRF in Fontana, CA, to learn about one approach: hand sorting. On the tipping floor, amid small mountains of paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum and plastic from curbside recycling programs, Burrtec Marketing Director Robert Rios explains, "For us, EPS is just one more material. We collect it with the same trucks that pick up everything else, and we didn't need additional hands on the sorting line."

They do it another way at Titus MRF Services in Los Angeles: optical sorting machines identify the relatively light PS/EPS items, then trigger air jets that blow them upward to a dedicated line. 

Both places densify the material they've sorted so it can be efficiently transported to a reclamation facility, like the one Dart Container operates in Corona, CA. Reclaimers turn the recycled plastic into the raw material that manufacturers of new products need. Right now, the Dart plant takes in mostly food-service foam, but Michael Westerfield, director of the company's recycling programs, is enthusiastic about an expansion that will enable it to handle "just about everything" in the way of polystyrene. "I'm excited about the prospects for collecting more used polystyrene and feeding the growing demand for recycled feedstock," he said. "Polystyrene recycling is an opportunity for everyone in the value chain." 

The demand, in fact, already exceeds the supply. Enterprises such as NEPCO Moldings in Ontario, CA, aren't able to purchase enough reclaimed polystyrene to run their operations at full capacity. "We could run all ten of our production lines if we could just get enough material," said sales executive Jonathan Lee. "Even with only eight lines running, we're making more than ten miles of polystyrene molding on an average day. That's a lot of recycled cups, plates and foam." In the end, it's also a lot of new crown moldings and picture frames.

The companies say that it is both possible and practical to include expanded polystyrene in curbside recycling programs. It can be collected and sorted in the same way other plastics are now, and it can be recycled into new products. In fact, there's an unmet demand for recycled PS and EPS as raw material feedstock.

Take a look at the video here:

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