Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Dart Container’s Polystyrene Foam Recycling Keeps Growing

Many articles about plastics on environmental websites and in mass media often state flatly that polystyrene foam, or even that all polystyrene cannot be recycled, which is the opposite of the truth. By way of proof, a recent article by Jessica Holbrook of Plastics News described Dart Container Corporation’s programs to increase recycling of EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam, and noted that Dart has been recycling EPS foam for about 20 years. (Note: EPS is commonly but incorrectly called Styrofoam, which is a Dow Chemical trademark for its building insulation.)

Dart-logoDart (Mason, MI) is one of the largest producers of EPS foam food packaging and serving ware worldwide, and a major recycler of EPS as well. The company annually collects more than 1.5 million pounds of post-consumer polystyrene foam and since 1998 has recycled more than 60 million pounds.

Those are big numbers, but considering that EPS is about 95% air, the mass of what Dart recycles is, well, massive. The post-consumer EPS that Dart accepts and recycles at 18 of its plants worldwide (13 in North America) is subsequently used to make picture frames, building insulation, lumber and much more.

Holbrook spoke with Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling programs at Dart, and what comes through most clearly is the depth and breadth of Dart’s recycling program. Dart has many ways to make it easy for users of foam products to recycle them.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers such as this one.

For example, Dart’s Recycla-Pak program equips users of foam cups with corrugated recycling bins and everything else needed for collecting and returning foam cups to Dart for recycling, including pre-paid shipping. The company’s CARE program—Cups Are REcyclable—helps high volume users of foam food service items separate them from other materials, consolidate the collected material, and arrange to have it recycled.

The CARE program offers a densifier—a piece of equipment that compacts (densifies) large quantities of foam products into small, shippable units. That reduces the space used to store collected foam, the frequency of material pick-ups, and since it dramatically increases the pounds of foam in a truckload, it reduces the carbon footprint of the total recycling process.

Dart offers resources that simplify foam recycling to every type of EPS user, including consumers and local governments. In recent years, the company has expanded its support of curbside collection. Los Angeles began its first foam-recycling project in 2007 and today more than 65 California cities have access to curbside EPS recycling.

Dart’s comprehensive approach to foam recycling also can be seen in its internal operations. A recent regional dinner of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association featured a plant tour of Dart’s 1.6 million sq. ft. Waxahachie, TX facility, including the recycling center that’s open to the public. Dart is an SPI member company. Those who toured the facility said they were very impressed by the technology and the overall organization.

In the Plastics News article, Dart’s Westerfield says, “Most people, when you talk to the general public, don’t even know foam is recyclable. The fact that we’ve overcome that and grown in such a short period of time, that’s very positive.” Dart’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, the EPS Industry Alliance gave Dart Container its Excellence in EPS Recycling Award for “…extraordinary commitment to the advancement of expanded polystyrene recycling.”

Full Plastics News article here.

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