Americas Styrenics later this summer will begin production of PolyRenew, a polystyrene resin brand with 25 percent post-consumer content.
“This is a game changer for us,” commercial Vice President Scot Mitchell said in an interview at the firm's office in The Woodlands. “Everyone says polystyrene isn't recyclable, but we're proving it is being recycled, and that material made with recycled polystyrene has food-contact approvals. We're really excited about it.”
PolyRenew will be made at the Americas Styrenics plant in Gales Ferry, Conn., where Mitchell said as much as 80 million pounds of annual capacity is available to meet demand for the product. The material is being aimed at the foam market for applications like trays and clamshell containers.
“We've talked to all the big foam suppliers and [PolyRenew] is getting a fantastic reception,” Mitchell said. “One of the reasons they like it so much is that it doesn't require any tooling changes. We're focused on helping people understand how to work with polystyrene.”
Americas Styrenics is sourcing the post-consumer PS used in PolyRenew from NextLife Recycling LLC of Boca Raton, Fla. Mitchell added that PolyRenew “is a big step toward the customer-facing part of sustainability” for the PS market.
PolyRenew is providing a bright spot for Americas Styrenics in a year in which North American PS demand once again is struggling. Through May, regional PS demand was down almost 5 percent vs. the year-ago period, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. Coming into the year, Mitchell and other PS industry executives had hoped for low-single-digit growth.
“We anticipated growth, but the economy hasn't been strong and we've seen a decline again,” Mitchell said. He added that he believes a 10-cent per-pound PS price increase announced for Aug. 1 will go through, as a result of higher prices for benzene feedstock and margin compression seen by Americas Styrenics and other regional PS makers in July.
Recent $5-per-gallon spot prices for benzene “are not sustainable,” Mitchell said.
In spite of these market challenges, Mitchell said his firm “is very optimistic” about polystyrene, and its customers “remain cautiously optimistic about the economy.”
Customers “are in the early stages of new product development,” he said. “And we're getting better at managing our own inventory and production. We have to do that well.”
Americas Styrenics is a joint venture between Styron LLC and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP.