It’s long been known that polystyrene (PS) foam items, such as food take-out containers and cups, provide convenience for consumers, but this material is also valuable to manufacturers as well. Compressed foam is often used in the production of brand new consumer items, such as picture frames and crown molding. While the bulky, raw material is widely available – and often referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company – polystyrene foam must be processed so that it’s usable across markets and applications.
Manufacturers first need to address foam’s lightweight and bulky nature before using it in the production of new items. Because PS foam is 95-98% air, its mass – which can be a problem when shipping – is sometimes a deterrent to companies that would like to use it for manufacturing purposes. An easy solution to this problem is a process called densification. Consider this: the densification process can make foam material 50 to 90 times denser than its original state, meaning the foam is compact and less bulky. After densifying foam, 40,000 pounds of foam can be shipped at once, as opposed to only 2,000 pounds of the uncompacted original material.
Manufacturers have much to gain in using recycled polystyrene foam as a production material as opposed to brand new “virgin” polystyrene foam. Recycled foam costs less than foam that hasn’t been processed, and is considered to be a high-quality feedstock – or principal material – for use in manufacturing new items. This is important when manufacturing goods because raw materials can often represent 50-70% of the total cost of the final product. Using recycled polystyrene foam allows manufacturers to save money and enables them to remain competitive in their markets.
Using polystyrene foam in this application would not be possible without the ability to recycle the material. Michigan-based Dart Container Corporation is one institution working with organizations and agencies across the U.S. to encourage the recycling of foam products, and has launched several programs which do just that. The CARE (Cups Are REcyclable) Program, for example, promotes the recycling of single-use foam cups. Through CARE, users are provided with their own desyfying device to compress their foam waste so that it’s ready to be purchased and used by manufacturers.