Polystyrene foam recycling returns to two Ontario Municipalities

Two Ontario municipalities recently began recycling polystyrene foam. The Town of Brockton and the Town of Hanover now recycle polystyrene foam, in part due to $9,700 in grant money received from the Foam Recycling Coalition.

Brockton, Ontario is located Bruce County, approximately 200 km northwest of Toronto. As of 2016, the population was 9,461. Hanover, approximately 20 km east of Brockton, has a population of of approximately 7,600.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is a type 6 plastic that is also known as the trademarked brand Styrofoam.  It is used in in food and beverage packaging (i.e., coffee cups), insulation, and for protection of materials during shipping.  It has very low density as it is over 95 percent air.

Although 100% recyclable, EPS’s low density means transporting any quantity of it for recycling proves prohibitively expensive.

The municipalities began collecting post-consumer polystyrene foam in 2007, but the popular recycling program was suspended 10 years later due to changing markets for the material. The recycling services will resume with the help of a polystyrene densifier, which compacts collected materials into condensed polystyrene bricks. End markets then recycle the bricks into new products.

“The discontinuation of the agreement to transport materials in 2017 was sudden and unexpected. With this grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition, we found a solution that allows us to begin collecting polystyrene again and bring back this service to our residents,” said Ron Cooper, director of public works for the Town of Hanover, Ontario.

Brockton and Hanover’s waste management departments will operate the program through the use of community drop-off depots. Businesses and residents can bring foam cups, take-out containers, egg cartons and meat trays, as well as protective foam packaging often found around shipped electronics. The material will then be sent to a central location for densification and turned into new products as varied as crown molding, picture frames and receipt spools.

Foam Recycling Coalition

In 2014, the Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC) was launched to support increased recycling of foodservice packaging made from foam polystyrene. In order to meet this objective, the FRC shares general information on foam recycling, provides technical resources and offers funding assistance to programs ready to start or strengthen post-consumer foam recycling.

In addition to encouraging the recycling of foam foodservice packaging (i.e. cups, plates, bowls, clamshells and cafeteria trays), the efforts of the FRC also extend to other foam food packaging like egg cartons and meat trays.

Other Polystyrene Recycling Projects in Canada

Nova Scotia

The Solid Waste Management Department of Colchester County, Nova Scotia is responsible for providing solid waste and recycling service to 130,000 residents across several communities.  In 2015, the Solid Waste Management Department estimated that foam polystyrene comprised one percent—620 tons—of the annual municipal waste stream. However, at the time, the county did not possess the equipment to efficiently recover foam products at their MRF, so the material still went to a landfill. To begin recovering this “lost” material, Colchester County applied for and was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC) that the county used to purchase a foam densifier for installation at their MRF. 

Unless it is densified, foam polystyrene is very lightweight. This makes the product inefficient and expensive to ship. Densifiers help compact foam into smaller, heavier, and more manageable bricks that can be easily transported in full truckload quantities. The MRF installed the new densifier in April 2016 and began densifying the foam that MRF employees captured at the end of the container line.

Densified foam polystyrene is a valuable commodity and tens of thousands of pounds can be trucked to end markets in a single load. Once the material is shipped from the MRF to plastic recycling facilities, the facilities grind, wash, and then pelletize the polystyrene which manufacturers can use instead of virgin plastic.

Quebec

Pyrowave, a pioneer in catalytic microwave depolymerization of plastics, has received a $50,000 grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition in 2017 to purchase equipment to allow for in-house processing of recycled polystyrene.

The Montreal, Quebec, company commercializes microwave-based equipment modules to perform fast depolymerization of mixed plastics and is focusing initially on post-consumer polystyrene. According to Pyrowave, the machines can depolymerize (or break down) post-consumer polystyrene materials into a styrene oil with up to 95 percent yield, which is then shipped to styrene buyers. 

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