Polystyrene foam is a staple of the American restaurant industry. What many people don’t know though, is that foam is 100% recyclable. One Cleveland-area non-profit is on a mission to recycle foam and inform the public about the benefits of foam recycling. Buckeye Industries, which started in 2007, has many centers in the area, and its Eastlake location collects polystyrene foam for free. Buckeye’s employees sort the foam and sell dense bricks to companies that make picture frames, crown molding, and other products. In 2013, Buckeye collected and shipped more than 97,000 pounds of foam.
Buckeye Industries is part of a growing trend to recycle foam nationwide. Across the country, the recycling rate of polystyrene foam climbed to 35% in 2013, according to an October 2014 report from the EPS Industry Alliance. Year-over-year, the rate is up 5%, and has grown steadily since 1991. As education efforts continue, the foam recycling rate is expected to keep climbing.
The foam industry continues to play an active role in promoting recycling throughout the country. The industry is also endeavoring to correct misconceptions about foam through a nationwide educational initiative that centers on the economic and environmental benefits that foam offers.
The industry points out that many restaurants and food trucks operate on razor-thin profit margins, and foam containers and plates provide affordable and effective food storage. For instance, restaurants can buy 500 10-inch plates made from compostable materials or plastic for $64.50, whereas 500 10-inch foam plates sell for $28.25.[i] Most people know about foam’s economic benefits, and industry insiders seek to educate the public about the environmental benefits as well.
It is important to remember that polystyrene foam is not Styrofoam, though the two names are often confused. Styrofoam – a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company, is used for insulation, while polystyrene is used almost exclusively in food packaging products such as cups, plates, lunch trays, and to-go boxes.
The foam industry hopes to correct pervasive misconceptions about its product. One such misconception is that polystyrene is made with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other ozone-depleting chemicals.[ii] However, foam products are made when air and polystyrene encounter a “blowing” or “expansion” agent, and CFCs have not been used since 1980. Similarly, no regulatory body in the world has classified styrene – the monomer that polystyrene is made from – as a human carcinogen.
Another misconception is that foam products are filling up landfills across America. In fact, foam foodservice products make up less than 1% of landfill waste (by both weight and volume). Many more paper cups end up in landfills than their foam counterparts.[iii]
Perhaps the biggest myth involving foam is that it is not recyclable. In fact, it is 100% recyclable and there are dozens of foam recycling centers across the country. Recycled foam can be used to make picture frames, garden nursery trays, rulers, and architectural molding. Manufacturers can even use it for insulation and as a component of solar paneling and windmill blades.
Companies like Buckeye Industries are leading by example, showing Americans that foam can be recycled for economic and environmental gain. The foam industry is heartened by the efforts of Buckeye Industries and plans to continue its foam education push in communities across the U.S.[i] http://www.morningjournal.com/general-news/20140825/cleveland-area-nonprofit-takes-on-styrofoam-recycling [ii] Alexander, Judd H. In Defense of Garbage. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993. 55 [iii] United States Environmental Protection Agency, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States 2010 Facts and Figures, November 2011, Table 3