Written by Inas Hassan, Staff Reporter

Calgary’s Pilot Project Targets Styrofoam Waste

The City of Calgary recently launched a six-month long pilot project to collect extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) packaging, commonly referred to as Styrofoam (a trademarked brand), inviting residents to participate in this new initiative aimed at reducing waste and promoting sustainability. Beginning on May 13, 2024, Calgarians started dropping off foam packaging for recycling at a designated area in a landfill, free of charge.

XPS Bricks from Styro-Go Canada

Elias Tomaras, a project manager with the City of Calgary, said XPS materials are not currently accepted in its recycling programs. That means annually tonnes of these materials are deposited at its landfills, occupying significant space. XPS is a landfill operators nightmare – low density material.

The pilot aims to divert XPS from landfills by collecting it separately for recycling. A local company, Styro-Go Canada, will collect the separated XPS, melt it down, and form it into compact bricks. These bricks will be sold to manufacturers who can reuse them into new products such as bicycle helmets and car seats.


The Challenges of Recycling Styrofoam

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) or XPS is widely used in our daily life. It can be used in appliances packaging, coffee cups, food containers and as an excellent insulator.

According to, 2012 report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which revealed that 80% of Canada’s Styrofoam waste, over 6,500 tonnes, ended up in landfills or waterways, with only 35% of communities accepting it for recycling.

Despite its widespread use, XPS poses significant environmental challenges. The critical difficulty in recycling XPS lies in its composition: it is 95% air, which makes it bulky and economically not feasible to transport without prior densification. Furthermore, the foam’s lightweight nature facilitates its fragmentation into small particles, contaminating recyclables and the environment. Wind dispersal can lead to pollution of water and land, posing a threat to wildlife by mistakenly ingest it as food.

Innovative Recycling Technologies for a Sustainable Future

The critical challenge with traditional “mechanical” XPS recycling is not only related to its high costs but also in managing contamination from food residue found in containers. To address these issues, several pioneering companies such as Pyrowave, and Polystyvert are implementing innovative ‘chemical’ recycling technologies.

Depolymerization

Pyrowave’s technology is a nanopurification technology that uses chemical recycling to convert waste polystyrene into new XPS. Using microwaves, it breaks down polystyrene molecules into their base component, styrene, which can then be chemically reprocessed into new polystyrene. This method effectively removes contamination, allowing the use of dirtier XPS and producing new XPS with 100% recycled content, identical to petroleum-derived XPS.

The nanopurification technology is powered by electricity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 95% compared to XPS made directly from petroleum. This is also a key to the circular economy, which focuses on minimizing the use of raw materials and extract the maximum value from them during use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of its life. This approach emphasizes sustainability, resource efficiency, and reducing environmental impact.

Pyrowave estimates this recycling process can produce polystyrene with a tenth of the energy, making the price more competitive compared with the traditional styrene produced from crude oil.

Dissolution


Polystyvert, a Montreal-based company, uses a unique process to recycle polystyrene by dissolving it in the essential oil cymene, rather than through depolymerization. This allows to put 10 times more styrofoam in the same truck, achieving efficient transportation. Once dissolved, it can be resolidified with another solvent, and washed and filtered multiple times to remove contaminants before being reformed into polystyrene pellets. The company is pursuing food-grade approval to expand its applications.

Sustainable XPS Alternatives

Recycling XPS is can be an expensive process and is often not available at local recycling facilities. Therefore, it is critical to adopt alternatives to XPS. Reducing the use of single-use items and instead using reusable containers can significantly reduce the need for polystyrene.

Finding alternatives to XPS packaging can be more challenging, but the market is increasingly offering biodegradable options. Companies are developing polystyrene substitutes from materials like mushrooms and corn starch. These innovations in biodegradable plastics are transforming the industry.

In conclusion, while XPS recycling is not widely accessible due to its high cost, it is important to spread awareness to make conscious choices to reduce, reuse, and implement biodegradable alternatives to mitigate the environmental impact of XPS.