Polystyrene foam can be recycled into components used to manufacture hard plastic, thanks in part to entrepreneurs in Mexico. A machine called Reps-01 has been designed that can turn foam into transparent hard plastic, the first of its kind in Mexico. Hector Ortiz founded the company Rennueva that designed this machine, which can produce 97kg of plastic pellets from 100kg of foam in one hour. These pellets can then be used to create rigid plastic items, and can also be used as the raw material in 3D printing as a cheaper alternative to filament.
The idea for this machine was developed to combat the rising garbage problem in Mexico. Annually, 60,000 tons of foam are produced, so it made ecological sense to look for methods to recycle it. With an affordable source of inputs and a sought-after output, the potential for recycling foam is very high. As such, the three percent loss at production level is considered minor. The issue being faced now, however, is the lack of infrastructure to gather materials or recycling practices, as well as a lack in available technology in Mexico for this specific purpose.
Dart Mexico, a food packaging manufacturer, has offered support for this venture. With Dart’s help, this project was developed to assist companies that heavily rely on this material, and to help them conveniently recycle foam.
Foam is made up of 95% air and 5% polystyrene. The foam is first crushed and then the machine uses a heat process called thermodensification to melt the polystyrene. At this point, the material becomes plasticized, and once a more rigid polystyrene plate has formed, it is cooled and cut into pellets.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Mexico City (Seciti) and two private landfill companies in Yucatan and Quintana Roo have acquired the first three machines Rennueva has produced.
The first machine cost $25,000, took one year to design and a further six months to build. Due to the success of the company’s first stage of development, they have established a partnership with the Center for Advanced Technology in Queretaro with the hopes of manufacturing roughly 12 to 18 units by the end of 2015.