A California city's recycling initiative has the potential to become a model for the collection, recycling and reuse of EPS packaging used to transport and ship products. Officials tout the program's low startup cost and that it builds on existing infrastructure.
``We collected more than 1,200 pounds of material in the first week,'' said Sean Bigley, an administrative analyst in the Environmental Utilities Department of Roseville, Calif., which has a population of 106,000 and is 16 miles north of Sacramento. ``That is more than we anticipated.''
Timbron International Inc. will use the expanded polystyrene at its plant in nearby Stockton, which makes baseboards and crown moldings with 90 percent recycled content. The company consumes 8 million pounds of the recycled material annually.
``We sensed there was an opportunity to create a market,'' said Lisa Barry, a California Integrated Waste Management Zone employee who worked for more than a decade with the Recycling Market Development Zone program, which promotes the development of markets for recycling in the state. She was recently transferred to a different department.
``We want to get this material out of the waste stream, get it recycled and see how we can capitalize on existing infrastructure,'' she said. ``It has to be done in a way that makes economic sense. It can't be done at a cost'' to the community. ``But the material is here. We might as well make a finished product of it.''
Bigley said two-thirds of EPS collected in Roseville in the first week of the program came from two retailers - an Ashley Furniture warehouse and a Magnolia Home Theater store located inside electronics retailer Best Buy - and the rest from four residential recycling bins located at existing consumer recycling drop-off sites in the city.
Each of the six bins cost $285 and can hold approximately 60 pounds of EPS packaging. The other initial cost was about three hours of worker time each day.
Marketing funds for the one-year pilot program are being funded partially by Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council, which is also expected to pay at least half the cost of a used $18,000-$19,000 polystyrene densifier that Roseville is buying.
The program does not take PS packaging peanuts or food packaging, and the two retailers only recycle their own waste, Bigley said.
Roseville should be taking delivery of the densifier by mid-December, he said, so it can compact the material by a factor of 50 into blocks to reduce transportation costs.
Bigley said recycled PS sells for anywhere between 10-26 cents per pound, depending on the quality of the material, and he expects to sell the material to Timbron at the high end of that range.
``We are trying to be a leader in the region and are looking to become a central regional collection point'' for South Placer County and the Sacramento area, Bigley said. ``In the future, we want to begin collecting materials from neighboring communities.''
Barry said although Roseville has chosen to densify the material it collects, the EPS can just as easily be baled, and the city is working with the local Costco store on a baling program.
Bales wrapped in cardboard prevent the EPS material from breaking off, she said. Densified EPS material contains lots of little pieces that can be friable and blown away, unless it is encased in shrink wrap.
``Our goal is to get groceries and big-box retailers to bale their own material,'' said Barry. ``Retailers spend a lot of dollars to get people to come to their stores. The cost of providing that recycling service would be cheap advertising and they could put the collection bins in the back of their stores'' to draw foot traffic, she said.
Barry also said the state is working with communities to draw attention to other opportunities to recycle EPS transportation packaging.
Roseville, for example, will have collection bins at its Christmas tree drop-off and other communities are looking at setting up EPS collection bins at electronic waste drop-off events.
``There is a need and the public wants to recycle,'' she said, pointing to how a short story in a local newspaper led to people in the Sacramento region recycling 500 pounds of EPS packaging in a one-day event Sept. 15 after the California Exposition and State Fair. In addition, a one-day event in Tuolumne County this year gathered 800 pounds of EPS.
``We are really scrambling to get the infrastructure for processing plastics materials'' developed in the state, said Barry. ``A lot of the materials we collect now goes overseas and competition for those materials is high. But that won't last forever and we need the infrastructure here. We need to work diligently to keep the material in the U.S.''
PS transportation packaging had a 19 percent recycling rate in 2001 in California - about 6 percentage points higher than the national average, according to a CIWMB report to the legislature in December 2004. But an estimated 600 million pounds are landfilled annually at a cost of $2,000 per ton.
Food service packaging, which has attracted the ire of environmentalists, typically is not recycled and has been banned in seven California cities.