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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007 06:49 pm

Recycle Styrofoam

Industry makes reuse more cost-effective and convenient

Untitled Document What can be done to recycle Styrofoam
economically and efficiently?

Known within the packaging industry as expanded polystyrene (EPS) and usually bearing the No. 6 recycling symbol, Styrofoam (which is actually the trademark name for Dow Chemical’s product) has long been an environmental bugaboo, partly because it contains chemicals known to cause central nervous system damage and other health problems in workers who are regularly exposed to it and partly because it is difficult and expensive to recycle, tending to clog landfills already teeming with toxic garbage. But EPS has proved one of the lightest and least costly forms of packaging material, so the industry has worked hard to make recycling it more cost-effective and convenient. More than 80 packaging manufacturers, polystyrene suppliers, and equipment makers joined together in 1991 to form the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. The Maryland-based industry association works to facilitate recycling between EPS manufacturers and the companies that buy from them. It currently boasts of overseeing the recycling of 10 to 12 percent of the postconsumer EPS packaging produced every year. Member companies, which provide drop-off services at their facilities, reprocess as much as 60 percent of the EPS foam collected and incorporate it directly into new packaging. Some of the material is reformulated and used in a wide variety of durable plastic products. Currently more than 110 plant locations, serving as collection centers, receive upwards of 50 million pounds of postconsumer EPS packaging each year. The AFPR provides a comprehensive list of EPS drop-off locations from coast to coast on its Web site. Although companies sending the EPS in for recycling must bear the shipping or drop-off costs, they may save money over paying for disposal fees at the landfill. One caveat: The AFPR does not get involved in the recycling of the foam “peanuts” so often used as packaging filler. Most “pack-and-ship” shops (e.g., UPS stores) will accept used but otherwise clean foam peanuts for reuse in their own shipments. Otherwise, the Plastic Loose Fill Council, another trade group, runs a free Web-based database where users can find a local drop-off center by simply punching in a ZIP code. Also, food-service managers should bear in mind that recycling of soiled food-grade EPS is more difficult and expensive because of issues of bacterial contamination. Most EPS-packaging recycling centers will not accept such tainted foam. Many food-service companies have followed the lead of McDonald’s and phased out their use of EPS containers for disposable dishware and to-go orders. Companies that don’t find it convenient to recycle or otherwise dispose of large amounts of EPS (food-grade or otherwise) may want to consider purchasing one or more StyroMelt machines from United Kingdom-based Purex. The technology uses a thermal-compaction process to reduce the volume of EPS by as much as 95 percent. The resulting solid EPS “briquettes” are dense enough to make good recycling fodder and also take up much less room than the foam they started out as if they end up in the landfill.
For more information: Purex Styromelt,; Plastic Loose Fill Council,; Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers,
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