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    January 15, 2016
    Grant Program Expands EPS Recycling to Curbside
    New grants increase regional capacity to process EPS Foam products streamlining recycling costs

    By Todd Huempfner

    Todd Huempfner is a Vice President with ACH Foam Technologies representing more than 20 years of experience in EPS foam manufacturing. He is board member of EPS-IA, the EPS Industry Alliance, and can be reached at toddhuempfner@achfoam.com.

    Surely the notion of sustainability has now moved past the buzzword phase of a decade ago, the importance of continuing to look for meaningful ways to reduce the constant stream of waste sent to landfills remains. In 2015 The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) launched an initiative that takes an important step in ensuring valuable reusable materials are being recycled instead of sent to landfills.

    A dozen FPI members composed of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and operators/retailers in the food service and packaging industry came together in 2014 to establish the Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC). The FRC’s purpose is to provide direct support for the increased recycling of foodservice packaging made from polystyrene, as well as other expanded polystyrene (EPS) products.  However, items like the meat packaging and egg cartons from the grocery store are often made from the same polystyrene foam but go unrecycled. It is just as important to recycle these materials as it is to recycle plastic bottles.  With this in mind in 2015 the FRC, in association with the EPS Industry Alliance (EPS-IA), announced a grant program to help businesses in the recycling industry increase their capacity to accept post-consumer EPS foam products.

    Generally in the past, the bulk of EPS foam recycling efforts have focused on industrial sectors where commercial product distributors and vendors recycle large volumes of material collected from protective packaging from products like refrigerators or televisions. The FRC grants will instead target entities that manage residential curbside and drop-off recycling programs in order to extend foam product recycling to the individual consumer level.

    “The idea behind the grant program is to help material recovery facilities recycle EPS cost-effectively,” remarks Lynn Dyer, President of the FPI. “Essentially it’s all about volume and economics. What can we do to make diverting consumer-level EPS foam products from the waste stream more appealing to the recycling industry from an economic perspective?”
    Dyer points out the obstacle has always been the sheer volume of space required to transport the recycled foam to a processor before it is recomposed for the next stage of a continued lifecycle. The grants will specifically provide funding for a specialized compactor known as a densifier used to compress the foam at material recovery facilities. The densifier greatly reduces the volume of space required to store or transport EPS Foam by compacting it. The densifier squeezes out air, which represents roughly 90% of the product’s material composition by volume. By illustration, a 48-foot truckload of baled undensified EPS foam weighs approximately 16,000 pounds. The same truck packed with densified foam weights approximately 40,000 pounds, greatly increasing the cost-effectiveness of collecting and redistributing EPS materials.

    The FRC expects to significantly increase the amount of EPS that is returned to the manufacturing process by supporting post-consumer recycling at the material recovery facility level.  Ultimately these EPS products will be reused to manufacture all kinds of things like crown molding, picture frames, or plastic patio furniture. Presently, many EPS foam manufacturers work in a closed-loop process meaning the excess foam produced stays in the manufacturing facility and is recomposed with no waste. For the EPS industry, regardless of what their foam is manufactured into, increasing public awareness of recycling opportunities is important. 

    “We’re very interested in helping to inform the public that these products can and should be recycled,” comments Mary Burk, Corporate Marketing with ACH Foam Technologies. “Increasing the volume of reusable foam on the consumer level is good for the environment, good for the public, and good for the many different industries that use new and recycled EPS foam for everything from commercial insulation for construction to protective packaging for wine, medicine, and refrigerated foods.”

    Dyer agrees and adds that it is important to point out a few common misconceptions about recycling food packaging products. The first of which is that foam can’t be recycled at all, which is obviously not the case. The second relates directly to the food service industry where many consumers are under the impression that polystyrene foam packaging used to hold food products is more contaminated than other forms of packaging.

    “It’s a continual process with dual objectives of creating opportunities to expand EPS foam recycling opportunities on the individual level and then increase public awareness that those opportunities exist,” remarks Dyer.

    Dyer’s office was inundated with applications from material recovery facilities across the United States and Canada when the FPI grant program was announced. Her team’s very specific selection criteria for the first grant recipient included level of innovation, market reach within the community, and the ability to process a combination of commercial, industrial, and residential foam products. After an exhaustive review and evaluation, Alpine Waste & Recycling, a Denver-area company was selected. Alpine Waste & Recycling has maintained a dedication to sustainable practices since the company’s inception in 1999.

    “Alpine has a reputation in this market as the innovators of the waste-and-recycling industry, while maximizing sustainability and helping to preserve the environment,” remarks Brent Hildebrand, Alpine Waste’s Vice President of Recycling. “The grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition affirms our place as leaders in the recycling community, and we’re very excited to promote this new efficiency in EPS foam recycling with the advanced technology in our expanded, re-tooled recycling plant.”

    What is on the horizon for the FRC and their efforts to support EPS foam recycling, hopefully more of the same. More public information to make consumers aware of the opportunity to recycle products that are every bit as common and reusable as those made of other materials.



    About ACH Foam Technologies

    ACH Foam Technologies uses a closed-loop EPS manufacturing process and offers EPS customers its own recycling capabilities.  ACH Foam also serves as a resource to its customers by providing training on finding large volume recycler when ACH is not able to accommodate their needs. Read more about EPS environmental benefits.