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Green Building News

Curbside Recycling for Polystyrene Foam

A Nova Scotia community launches the province's first recycling program specifically for rigid foam

Expanded polystyrene foam, used in a variety of products including insulation, is being collected by recyclers in Nova Scotia.

In a first for the province of Nova Scotia, a waste recycling agency has launched a curbside recycling program for expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, turning waste foam into blocks of condensed material that can be sold to manufacturers and turned into new products.

Two years in the making, the program got off the ground in mid-November, according to an article in the The Kings County Advertiser and Register.

The program will keep some 85 tons of foam out of a regional landfill, extending its capacity and reducing costs incurred by the agency, Valley Waste Resource Management, the newspaper said.

Foam is “densified”

After the foam is collected, it’s put in a cage 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and 5 feet long, and then dumped onto a conveyor. The conveyor feeds a device called a “densifier” that turns the foam, which is 98 percent air, into a solid block — the kind of compaction that would never occur in a landfill.

It takes eight full cages of foam pieces, about 62 cubic yards, to make a single half-ton block, the newspaper said.

Andrew Garrett, Valley Waste’s communications coordinator, told the newspaper there are ready markets for recycled polystyrene, including buyers in China, where it is turned into window molding, flower pots, and CD cases.

The processing equipment cost about $40,000 (Canadian dollars). (For more information on EPS densifiers, see Recycling Expanded Polystyrene.)

In the U.S., the EPS Industry Alliance, a trade group, says more than 127 million pounds of EPS were recycled in 2013, including 73 million pounds of post-consumer packaging. The average recycling rate for EPS is 15%, the group said, one of the highest rates for plastics.

Citing “challenging transportation logistics and high contamination rates,” EPS-IA says there is limited collection of EPS at the community level. But the group has developed 200 collection sites around the country, and sponsors a mail-in recycling program.


  1. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #1

    The biggest issue with recycling packaging EPS...
    ... is the low density, and the environmental cost of the transportation required to move it around in a pre-denisified form. In order to collect enough of it to get a net reduction in environmental impact the source if the scrap EPS has to be close to where it is densified, or the transportation mechanism has to be very low impact (say, an electric truck charged by a green grid.)

    It takes careful carbon-accounting to know when curbside EPS recycling ends up being a net win on a given recycling system.

  2. CanAmSteve | | #2

    Mail it back?
    "sponsors a mail-in recycling program"

    I wonder what the uptake is on that offer? Seems more likely just to make its environmental impact that much worse

  3. Peter_Rogers | | #3

    If it's going into the waste
    If it's going into the waste stream, doesn't it have to get picked up by a truck and moved somewhere anyway?? Seems that the concerns about energy for transportation need to be qualified a bit more. And with the volume of this stuff pre-densified, it's going to fill up landfills disproportionately quickly. It's not all just about carbon accounting.

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