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Green Building News

Recycling Expanded Polystyrene

This machine is used to recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS) by melting and extruding pieces of discarded EPS. The extruded plastic is formed into solid ingots. These ingots are used as a raw material in the production of a variety of new plastic products, including the backs of CD cases.
Image Credit: RecycleTech

A New Machine “Densifies” Discarded Foam

TALAHASSEE, Fl. — Most of the nation’s discarded expanded polystyrene (EPS) — including hamburger clamshell boxes, coffee cups, protective foam packaging inserts, and pieces of building insulation — goes straight to a landfill. Recent technical improvements in recycling equipment, however, have begun to make EPS recycling cost-effective.

One manufacturer of equipment to process EPS waste is RecycleTech Corporation, which makes a machine that “densifies” EPS by putting scraps through a crusher, heater, and extruder. The resulting hard ingots are 90 times denser (and therefore smaller in volume) than the EPS used to create them. The ingots become the raw material for the manufacture of a variety of plastic products, including picture frames, shoe soles, and the backs of CD cases.

Funding from the state of Florida has allowed RecycleTech machines to be installed at recycling centers in several Florida counties, including Indian River County, Leon County, and Polk County. Since the first unit was delivered in June of 2008, over 1,607,400 cubic feet of EPS has been diverted from landfills.

Low Density Complicates Collection

EPS recycling programs face several hurdles; for example, the low density of EPS makes transportation of EPS scraps expensive. According to RecycleTech representative Leonard Black, “Collection of EPS is difficult since the material is so light it tends to blow away at curbside.”

The city of Conway, Arkansas, has a successful EPS recycling program. “A lot of our residents receive packages, and it’s unreal the amount of foam that our residents get because of Internet shipping,” said Duane Campbell, Conway’s recycling manager. “Our program cost us $65,000 to get set up and started. We’re doing it because of our landfill situation. Three years ago we had only 17 years left on our only local landfill. It was filling up fast, so we’ve had to raise our recycling efforts.”

For more information, visit the Recycle Web site.

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