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Recycling News

Grants help expand EPS recycling to curbside

The 2016 FRC grant funding cycle is open and proposals are due by April 1, 2016.

While the idea of sustainability has moved past the novelty phase that felt like a buzzword trend a decade ago, the need to continue to look for meaningful ways to further reduce the constant stream of waste sent to landfills remains. The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), a North American trade association composed of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and operators/retailers in the food service and packaging industry, launched a new initiative that takes an important step in ensuring valuable reusable materials are recycled instead of sent to landfills.

In 2014, a dozen members of the FPI came together to establish the Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC) to provide direct support for the increased recycling of foodservice packaging made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. Foodservice industry items made of EPS foam include the cups, plates, bowls, and carryout containers we’re all familiar with. However, meat packaging and egg cartons from the grocery store are often made from the same polystyrene foam. With this in mind in 2015 the FRC, in association with the EPS Industry Alliance (EPS-IA), announced a new grant program to help businesses in the recycling industry increase their capacity to accept post-consumer EPS foam products.

Up until recently, the bulk of EPS foam recycling efforts focused on industrial sectors where things like protective packaging for refrigerators or televisions result in large volumes of material collected from commercial product distributors and vendors. The FRC grants will target supporting entities that manage residential curbside and drop-off recycling programs in order to extend foam product recycling to the individual consumer level.

“The idea behind the grant program is to help material recovery facilities recycle EPS cost-effectively,” remarks Lynn Dyer, president of the FPI. “Essentially it’s all about volume and economics. What can we do to make diverting consumer-level EPS foam products from the waste stream more appealing to the recycling industry from an economic perspective?”

The obstacle, as Dyer points out, has always been the sheer volume of space required to transport the recycled foam content to a processor that will then recompose the foam into a reusable form for the next stage of the cycle. The grant program specifically provides funding for material recovery facilities to purchase a specialized compactor known as a densifier that compresses the foam. Since foam products are more than 90% air, the densifier greatly reduces the volume of space required to store or transport it.

When asked what is on the horizon for the FRC and their efforts to support EPS foam recycling, Dyer suggests that the answer is hopefully more of the same. More grant applicants, more detailed investigations into each applicants reach and effectiveness, and more grant awards followed by a public information process to make consumers aware of the opportunity to recycle products that are every bit as common and reusable as those made of other materials.

Sean O’Keefe, Layer Cake Creative

This entry was posted on Monday, February 29th, 2016.