Polystyrene foam products[i] are common items within most households, as they make great single-use foodservice products like hot-beverage cups and take away food containers. They are made of a durable material that helps preserve the temperature of sensitive foods. But what about the benefits these products provide after the consumer has used them? Is there a need for these items after consumers have discarded them? The Foam Recycling Coalition, a group recently formed by the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), conducted a study to determine just that.
Since 2011, FPI has been working to overcome misconceptions about the recycling and repurposing of polystyrene foam materials. One of these misconceptions being that there is not a lot of demand by different industries and organizations for recycled polystyrene foam. The report released by the Foam Recycling Coalition listed 140 different companies within the U.S. and Canada that either process or use post-consumer foam products. According to FPI President, Lynn M. Dyer, “Not enough market demand has been a perceived barrier to increasing the recovery of foam, but this latest study uncovers growing end markets.”
Once recycled and processed, post-consumer polystyrene foam has a wide variety of use for different manufacturers. The report sited that the material can be used to produce many items, such as picture frames, surfboards, interior architecture molding, and nursery products. This is accomplished through collecting and cleaning the discarded foam, having the foam compressed into individual, dense foam blocks, and selling these to manufacturers to use as material for filler in the new consumer goods.
One specific reason manufacturers are looking to polystyrene foam as a commodity is because of its low price compared to virgin products. If the price of the manufacturing product an organization uses to produce a consumer good rises, they are forced to search for an alternative in order to keep their bottom line steady. With this in mind, many companies are turning to post-consumer polystyrene foam. According to the CEO, David Sandler, of MCS Industries, Inc., a picture frame manufacturer, his motivation for turning to polystyrene foam is the cost “because virgin prices for PS have skyrocketed from 40-50 cents per pound to the high 80s and 90s in the last 10 years. Recycled PS is half that.” The report states that the global demand for polystyrene and EPS foam from 2000 to 2010 increased by 1.9 million tons.
[i] Polystyrene foam is often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company.