CHICAGO — Successfully recycling expanded polystyrene can be a challenge, there's no doubt about that.
EPS, however, has value, is in demand and deserves to be recaptured, according to Kim Holmes, director of recycling for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
So that's why the trade group is out with a new paper explaining the market and highlighting all of the different technologies that are commercially available to handle the material.
SPI is tackling the technology side of EPS recycling to help complement efforts by others to help promote the reuse cause, Holmes said.
“We want to make sure the work we bring to any topic is new and unique and adds value,” she said. “And we know that some other organizations have done work in EPS already.
“We provide a little bit of information about market demand and the recyclability of the material. But, really, the bulk of it is all of those technologies that are commercially available,” she said.
There's information on equipment such as blending systems, densifiers that melt, densifiers that use cold compression, and densifiers that use cold compression and shredding. And, then, you have your extruders and pelletizers and pre-crushers and shredders.
Details include equipment types, equipment manufacturers, model names, capacity information and websites to help steer potential customers to specific technologies.
Despite its recyclability, EPS still faces a hurdle because many people do not understand the material can be recaptured.
“One of the reasons we chose this material in particular is the threat of deselection. And I think that deselection is being driven by that misperception that it's not recyclable,” Holmes said. “If we can demonstrate that, we hope that some of those threats of deselection will die down and EPS can enjoy its place in the market because it's a valuable product.”
SPI unveiled the new guide at Pack Expo in Chicago recently, where Holmes made her comments.
“It's a hurdle,” she said about the misconception. “It is something very real that the industry is working to overcome. I think you have to give a lot of credit to the manufacturers. They are doing a lot of work to create that pull and demonstrate that value.”
Publication of the paper will be followed by more information next year about work now being conducted at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell regarding recycled EPS, Holmes said. That work incudes identifying feed streams, markets, challenges and opportunities. Details from the university are expected in the spring.
Recycling EPS in different communities can sputter because there is sometimes a missing piece to a successful process, whether it be transportation, aggregation or quality, for example.
“I think we've seen that in many communities, which lends to the misbelief that it's not really recyclable or it's not valuable,” Holmes said.
“These technologies allow you to overcome those challenges. We want to just make sure everyone has very quick access to all of the technologies that are out there and the different technology providers,” the recycling director said. “People who get the guide will have lots of options at their fingertips to explore if they are hoping to get into the recovery of this material.”
The paper from the Recycling Committee of SPI, “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery,” is available at www.plasticsindustry.org.
“Demand for recovered EPS continues to grow and new end-market uses for this material are cropping up every day in applications such as insulation, molding, construction, packaging and others,” said Jon Stephens of Avangard Innovative, in a statement. Stephens is chairman of the Recycling Committee's Technology and Equipment Subcommittee. “This paper offers recyclers working domestically and internationally a primer on what technologies are available for them to start increasing their EPS recovery, and their return on investment.”