A California recycler of expanded polystyrene is beginning to encounter the same sort of feedstock supply problems common to post-consumer PET and polyethylene bottle recyclers. Free-Flow Packaging Corp. of Redwood City, Calif., announced Feb. 1 it had recycled about 8 million pounds of EPS during 1995, an all-time high for the firm, and an 8 percent increase over 1994. However, the company's rate of growth in production fell to about half what it has been for five years.
``We think the reason why our growth is slower than earlier is supply, and we think there are two reasons why supply has become a problem,'' said Virginia Lyle, manager of environmental and public affairs for Free-Flow. ``The first is that all the easy sources have been tapped, and the second is the deselection of EPS as a packaging material.''
She said ``easy'' sources were electronic equipment, appliance and packaging makers that use EPS to protect and package their products, and who have a steady stream of clean foam.
``Since we do not do any cleaning, we have not penetrated the institutional food, or food service markets.,'' she said.
The deselection trend has resulted from packaging manufac-turers using other materials, such as molded fiberboard, or PE or urethane foams to serve loosefill packaging functions, and who have consistently downsized and reduced weight in their packages.
``It seems so funny to say, because five years ago when we started there was so much EPS out there,'' Lyle said. ``But we're finding as we grow that that is not true anymore.''
The company makes its Flo-Pak brand PS loosefill from 100 percent waste PS, including about 40 percent post-consumer material. Its other products include other types of loosefill, including a starch-based material, Cushion-Lite brand PE foam sheeting, and Bulkair and Flo-Vac brand dispensing systems.
The company gets its supplies from packaging from equipment manufacturers, local businesses, and individuals, including allowing its plants to serve as dropoff points for waste PS packaging.
``We are considering a number of ways to increase our supply,'' Lyle said.
She said the company is talking to some California communities in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas, where hauling and separation systems are in use, about providing sorted EPS material. She said the company already works with the City of San Jose, which modified its tipping floor procedures to produce uncontaminated EPS scrap.
The key to supply for Free-Flow is getting clean EPS, and another source of it is the collection bins established outside company plants, where individuals can drop off their material.
Free-Flow's predicament echoes the comments of PET and high density PE bottle recyclers who say supplies of clean consistent post-consumer bottles are limited.
Free-Flow has plants in Atlanta; Los Angeles; Newark, Del.; Thornton, Ill.; and Redwood City.