What is known as Styrofoam®, is actually the most recognizable form of foam “polystyrene” packaging. It is a strong plastic created from injecting air into a chemical combination of erethylene and benzine. Introduced in the U.S. in 1954, Styrofoam® is a trademarked name (a Dow Chemical invention). This material called polystyrene is foamed, or expanded, by a factor of 50 – it is about 98% air. It is very useful as a packing material but becomes a problem after that use as it is bulky and not burnable at the landfill – it releases bad chemicals, just as plastic does, when burned.
It would seem that polystyrene (styrofoam®) – such a light and useful substance – could be easily recycled.
Recycling polystyrene takes a few interesting twists. What seems to generally happen is the polystyrene is broken down and then remade – as polystyrene. Current recycling practices are to liquefy or dissolve it with either heat or petroleum-derived solvents to reduce the volume of the blown up polystyrene. The resulting material is then collected and recycled.
Several examples of polystyrene recycling plants in the States: Baton Rouge, Florida: International Foam Solutions (same name .com is their website) dissolve the styrofoam in “an environmentally friendly solution” before transporting it to recycling facilities.
Another company, Amazon Forms, in San Antonio, Texas wants consumers to drop off their used packing pellets. The company then breaks them down further to recycle them into their products: when filled with concrete, they create a gusseted grid of steel-reinforced concrete. Go to their website to see these forms they are talking about. Very cool! (www.amazongridwall.com)
In Canada at Belair Bay Industries near Vancouver, B.C., for ten years now, styrofoam/polystyrene has been chipped and used in making bean bag chairs.
Closer to home, Beaver Plastics in Edmonton, takes construction polystyrene waste and recycles it into either insulated panels or forms. The forms are used in building construction, and concrete is poured into them. These forms produce very energy efficient buildings with “R” factors over 40 in the walls! Beaver Plastics has another recycling avenue for polystyrene in their division that markets to greenhouses. They take the used and wrecked polystyrene trays from the greenhouses, recycle them back into trays and sell them back to the greenhouses.
Polystyrene recycling is hampered by the fact that the markets are very far from where the polystyrene could be collected. The polystyrene is bulky, but very light, making transport expensive. Most polystyrene recyclers have adequate supplies from what is brought in by consumers close to home, they are not going to put money into shipping polystyrene from a great distance. The onus, then, is on the consumer to bring the styrofoam/polystyrene to the recycler. To do so from the Peace Region is not really viable.
Alternatively there should be consumer pressure on manufacturers to use plastic bubble wrap (not noxious, takes up less room in the garbage, can be more easily recycled) rather than styrofoam/polystyrene as packaging.
Using polystyrene as an insulator in construction would be terrific, if there were an economical way to put returned polystyrene packaging into forms and support it with other materials (concrete, or wood forms). Another consideration for our region would be to open our own polystyrene recycling plant and make construction forms up here. The region is always looking to diversify industry, this would be an interesting operation that could see polystyrene coming north for recycling!
For more information on polystyrene recycling in Canada, visit the Canadian Polystyrene Association website at: http://www.cpra-canada.com