Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Styrofoam Recycling in New West!

At Monday's NWEP (New Westminster Environmental Partners) member meeting, we had a talk by a Coquitlam-based company called FoamOnly (they have a Facebook page but no website). They recycle styrofoam; they have a 2-stage process whereby they first chip, and then melt-and-compress the chips. Their end product is blocks of compressed polystyrene, which can be pelletized, and then remolded into other objects - things like picture frames, "green wood" products, and "green cement" products. These objects are, of course, a lot longer-lasting and harder to recycle than the orginal foam.

[compressed styrofoam]

New Westminster is the first city in the GVRD to recycle styrofoam; there is a collection bin at the recycling station at the Canada Games Pool and you can bring your styrofoam collection there during opening hours! Currently we are shipping 3 bins/week to FoamOnly. Yay!!!

According to the gentlemen from FoamOnly, EPS (expanded polystyrene = styrofoam) can't be collected via the BlueBin system, because it crumbles too easily and then contaminates the other plastics, rendering them unfit for further use. Also, because it is so bulky (mostly air!) it wastes a lot of space in the kerbside pickup system, and hence the City prefers citizens to take it to the recycling station themselves. You can take in your packaging peanuts, foam packing parts from your appliances, and your meat trays - FoamOnly will sort into coloured and non-coloured material and has different end customers for each.

FoamOnly's business model is based on charging the City a tipping fee (New West pays FoamOnly to take the stuff - but we'd be paying anyways, to take it to the dump!!) and selling the final compressed product. FoamOnly, thanks to their larger-scale setup, can handle a high incoming volume, apparently unlike some other companies who don't have the first "shredding" stage. FoamOnly doesn't deal with consumers directly; they don't "sell bags" for home-owners to fill and drop off. They only deal with City waste programs, and with large organizations who need to dispose of large quantities of styrofoam. They are starting to talk to other cities in the GVRD, but New West is an early adopter!

Styrofoam, for all its perceived evil, is a very good and environmentally sensible packaging material. Check out this fascinating paper (just read the abstract). I quote: "Virtually all primary use factors favor polystyrene foam over paper."
  • It is lightweight (weighs less than equivalent cardboard) and hence saves fuel (GHGs) in shipping.
  • it takes less energy to make styrofoam than it does to make cardboard (I know, I work in the pulp and paper sector - it takes a lot of energy plus many nasty chemicals to make cardboard!!).
  • it takes about the same amount of hydrocarbons to come up with the feedstock for cardboard (trees) as it takes to make the feedstock for the EPS (oil)
  • both packaging materials can be recycled about the same number of times
  • neither will decompose in a dry landfill; in a wet landfill paper decomposes to produce methane (evil GHG gas) whereas EPS remains inert; both can be incinerated cleanly with the option to produce "waste energy".
So save your meat trays and bring 'em on down to the recycling facility!

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