A recently released video showing the process and need for recycling polystyrene foam is making waves throughout the industry. Produced by Dart Container Corporation and Moore Recycling Association, the 11-minute video features Todd Sutton, who has dubbed himself “the Waste Sleuth.” Sutton tours and investigates several recycling facilities in order to understand the process of reusing items made of polystyrene foam. Most of the products collected for this are single-use foam items, like hot-beverage cups or take-away food containers. Often consumers mistakenly refer to these items as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company.
The process of collecting the discarded foam for recycling is the same as most other recyclable materials. The product is collected in bulk and sorted at a local materials recovery facility (MRF), such as Burrtec’s West Valley facility in Fontana, CA. While one may think that adding another recyclable material to the sorting process that already includes glass, paper, and several other materials might hinder production, it does not. Burrtec’s 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.”1 Once this process has taken place, the Burrtec team runs the items through a densifying machine in order to eliminate the bulkiness of foam material. Because polystyrene foam products are comprised of 90% air, they are densified in order to make them more compact and efficient to ship.
After being processed, compressed foam is shipped to Dart Container Corporation’s Corona, CA, reclamation facility. Here, the dense product is turned into the raw material that manufacturers use to produce new consumer goods. Manufacturers prefer to buy materials made from recycled feedstock because they are less expensive than new materials. The demand for this type of product is very high; in fact, Jonathan Lee, a representative of NEPCO Moldings of Ontario, CA, comments: “We could run all ten of our production lines if we could just get enough [raw] material. 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.” Recycling and reusing the foam items allow NEPCO Moldings to create new picture frames for consumer use.