The foam industry has launched an educational campaign throughout Texas to inform the state’s citizens about the benefits of polystyrene foam recycling. Restaurants in many Texas cities, such as Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, rely on foam take-out containers due to the containers’ excellent insulating properties and low cost. But many restaurant owners and consumers don’t know that they can recycle used foam containers. The foam industry hopes to change this.
A common misconception about foam products is that they cannot be recycled and are therefore bad for the environment. The truth is that polystyrene foam can be recycled, processed, and developed into new, usable products.
One area currently benefitting from a successful foam recycling program in Texas is the Fort Hood military post in Killeen. The community’s Fort Hood Recycle Center generated roughly $1.4 million in 2013 alone. The center plans to continue generating more revenue by incorporating further recycling initiatives in and around the area. The initiative is all part of the base’s bigger plan: becoming a completely waste-free environment by the year 2020. According to Mike Bush, the military post’s Director of Public Works, polystyrene foam played a large role in allowing the community to recycle 765 tons more material in 2013 than it did in the previous year.
But misinformation abounds, and it begins at the most basic level: the product’s name. The foam industry points out that many people confuse foam with Styrofoam, but the two products are different. Polystyrene foam is used to make foodservice products while Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company used mainly for insulation.
The best option for Texas is to implement a progressive foam recycling program. The foam industry is confident that by encouraging recycling solutions across the state, Texas will be able to aid in reducing the amount of waste sent to area landfills and keep product costs low for local establishments.
Foam recycling is an initiative that is consistently growing, specifically throughout the U.S. and Canada. The EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) Industry Alliance, an advocacy group for the foam industry, released a statement that the rate of EPS recycling rose to 35% in the U.S. and Canada in 2013. This figure represents a total of 127.3 million pounds of post-commercial and post-consumer packaging, as well as post-industrial recovery foam that was processed and recycled in 2013. This report confirms that the rate of recycling polystyrene foam is up roughly 5% year-over-year, and reflects the continual growth of polystyrene foam recycling since 1991.
Once foam products are collected for recycling, they are sorted and cleaned in preparation for processing. They are then placed in a densifying machine that compresses the materials to a fraction of their original size and converts them into dense bricks of foam. The bricks are then sent to manufacturers who use the raw material in the production of brand new consumer goods, such as picture frames and architectural crown molding. Continually increasing the recycling rate of polystyrene foam products allows manufacturers to reuse a “single-use” product and purchase production materials that cost substantially less than virgin materials.
The main message that the foam industry hopes to convey to Texas is this: not only are polystyrene foam products recyclable, but they are efficiently recycled and can create new opportunities for manufacturers. Foam products continue to contribute to Texas’s economy and environmental protection initiatives long after their first use.