• Styrofoam Recycling May Be in its Infancy But Offers Great Hope

    By Marge Ann Jameson

    At the Dec. 17 City Council meeting, William Merry of the Monterey Regional Waste Management District made a brief presentation about increased fees needed, included in which was a statement that the “75 percent diversion by 2020 is a goal, but it’s about to become a [state] mandate.” He reminded the Council that about 150 years remain on the local landfill and that more needs to be done to meet goals.

    The District is making great strides in materials recovery, part of which is the plan to use a “densifier” to recycle/reuse styrofoam, also known as expanded polystyrene.

    styro at mrwmdIn Santa Cruz County, where a 2009 estimate was that 426 tons of the stuff occupies county landfills, the San Lorenzo Valley Recycling facility recently applied for – and won – a grant from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County to purchase a densifier. They don’t have it yet, but their grant came through and delivery is expected within a month. And with it comes a plan to share the densifier with Monterey’s Waste Management District.

    “Densifying” essentially means “melting.” A densifier, which can be towed from site to site on a trailer, heats styrofoam to 302°F and turns it into a semi-liquid goo. The goo is extruded into a block form and dries in a few minutes, at which point it can be stacked and stored until enough can be affordably shipped off to a manufacturer. It will be 90 times more dense than regular styrofoam at that point, but still won’t be overly heavy.

    mobile_unit webNonetheless, it makes more sense economically to create the densified blocks with a mobile machine than it would to ship the styrofoam blocks to the densifier, said David Wright, director of the San Lorenzo Valley Recycling facility in Felton.

    “You don’t want to ship air!” said Wright.

    “It runs off a propane generator,” said Wright. The electricity which runs the densifier comes from the generator.

    The manufacturer then will re-heat it and use molds to make it into shapes that are consumer-friendly, such as crown molding for homes and picture frames. They could turn it back into styrofoam, closing the circle, but it makes a good material for injection molding.

    An operator can process 120 pounds in an hour, according to Wright. They expect to get 35¢ to 40¢ per pound for the densified blocks. “It’s one of the more valuable plastics we recycle,” he said. “When we’ve got 20,000 lbs. the buyer will send a truck and load it up.” the blocks will be stored in the huge roofed building at the Ben Lomond Transfer Station.

    Jeff Lindenthal from the Monterey Regional Waste Management District admits that the process of recycling styrofoam is still in its infancy. “It would be great to have producers and stores involved in the process,” he said. The District is currently holding a “holiday collection” and encouraging consumers to drop off styrofoam for recycling.

    As long as the food containers are clean, which they most often are not, they can be recycled. So can packing peanuts, but Lindenthal said it was probably more reasonable to reuse the peanuts than to recycle them. The material should be dry to be placed in the densifier so the work must be done in dry weather.

    Wright looks forward to working with Monterey. “This process would take a problem material off Monterey’s hands and eliminate a big source of bulk in the landfill,” he added, saying that SLV is talking with several buyers including Chinese manufacturers. “Different buyers have different specs.” he said. Lindenthal said there is a crown molding manufacturer here in California which would make a potential customer for the blocks.

    The propane generator cost about $28,000. Adding an enclosed cargo container made the total $33,000.

    Lindenthal said that electricity produced by the methane harvested at the Materials Recovery Facility at Marina could theoretically be used to run the machine, but they have not had a chance to examine the possibilities yet.

    The 1996 facility at Marina has diverted more than 1.1 million tons of recyclable and reusable materials from landfill disposal, some of the highest diversion levels in the State.

    Still, encouraging alternatives to styrofoam at the manufacturer and packing source is important. Much of the styrofoam used by consumers winds up in the environment, where it is not broken down by water or sunlight. It remains in the environment forever. Pieces can be mistaken by fish and birds for food and will eventually kill them as they fill up with it and starve to death.

    Carmel banned expanded polystyrene for restaurants in 1989. Pacific Grove, in 2008, enacted an expanded polystyrene ban, with the requirement that all takeout food packaging be recyclable or compostable. Seaside’s polystyrene ban took effect in August, 2010, and Monterey County’s was effective November, 2010.

     

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 30, 2014

    Topics: Front PG News, Green

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