You can find expanded polystyrene foam in the outer housing of computer and TV equipment, surfboards and boogie boards, food trays and protective packaging. It is lightweight and floats so it can easily be blown away to landfill or the ocean.
But innovative plastic recyclers are proving that all sorts of products can be made from it. Mitre 10 is working with insulation producer Expol to divert EPS polystyrene from landfill.
The EPS that comes from things like Styrofoam coffee cups can be recycled through the EXPOL programme. This is run by Mitre 10, which sets up collection points for the material that can be dropped off at sites including Mangawhai ITM. It’s also used by companies such as fine interior installers, who can put their waste into a two-cubic-metre bin that will be picked up by a truck and sent to an Auckland polystyrene recycling plant.
The waste plastic is processed into new products – including Tuff Pods, Quick Drain, Under Floor and the insulation fill for concrete slabs. The programme diverts a lot of polystyrene from landfill each year.
The plastic is also exported to Australia and Asia for further processing into things like fence posts and buckets. Peter believes the EXPOL programme is a good example of product stewardship and wants to see similar schemes become mandatory for businesses.
Polystyrene, also known as plastic number 6, is one of the most difficult types of plastic to recycle. It often contaminates other recycling streams, making it harder to isolate and process.
It is usually found in takeaway food packaging and as insulation. Polystyrene is a lightweight and flexible material which makes it ideal for products that need to be shipped or stored in bulk.
In New Zealand, all plastics except for type 1, 2 and 5 can be recycled. These are things like milk and soft drink bottles, yoghurt containers and some meat trays.
Foamed EPS can be recycled by Expol, which has drop off points around the country. The company processes the waste into insulation for houses and commercial buildings. This is a great alternative to traditional waste, as it is much less likely to end up in landfills. It’s also good for the environment, as it keeps it out of our oceans and waterways, where it can cause harm to marine life if ingested.
Whether or not you like Styrofoam, there are practical alternatives. You can recycle plastics with a higher value in your local recycling scheme, compost it or give it to someone else to use as garden mulch, office desk trays, or home science or art projects.
Polystyrene, which is known by the brand name of Styrofoam, is an aromatic thermoplastic derived from the styrene monomer. It can be made as a solid or in foam form. It’s often used in takeaway food packaging and to protect electronics, but it’s also found in CD cases, insulation, and other products.
Because EPS is 95% air, it’s a very lightweight material. Transporting truckloads of it to recycling centers isn’t cost-effective. To make a denser product, the EPS is compressed with balers or heated by limonene, which reduces it to a brick that’s easier to transport. This process is called thermal compaction. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than leaving EPS to contaminate landfills.
We’ve all seen the footage of our Beaches and Waterways strewn with Polystyrene and the sad images of Seabirds and Marine Life with their stomachs full of this cheap plastic. Thankfully there is now an alternative. EPS waste can be recycled with the aid of a new collection point set up at Mangawhai ITM thanks to interior fit-out company Finess Interiors.
The waste is collected by a mobile truck and brought to DIVERT’s Mil-tek EPS Compactor where it is reduced to 1/40th of its original size. This can then be used for insulation, and a range of other products that make use of recycled materials.
When it comes to a phase out process, there are many factors to consider. A clear and comprehensive plan must be drafted to cover all the ramifications for internal functions as well as outside stakeholders. It must also be documented and approved by management to ensure complete clarity. This is critical for the success of any product phase out.