Polystyrene recycling programs expand despite bans

Polystyrene recycling programs expand despite bans

PS recyclers respond to legislation banning use of polystyrene.

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April 24, 2019

As governments across the country consider or adopt polystyrene (PS) bans, one bill to ban PS takeout containers and cups recently failed to pass a floor vote in the Oregon House of Representatives. Opponents of the bill recognized that Tigard, Oregon-based Agilyx recycles post-consumer PS and alluded to bill supporters that a PS ban won’t solve the global plastic pollution problem, particularly ocean plastics.

April, lawmakers in Colorado, Suffolk County, New York, Buffalo, New York, Costa Mesa, California and Newton, Massachusetts either passed a PS ban or moved one step closer to adopting legislation. Following a recent passage in the Maine House and Senate, Maine could soon become the first to enforce a statewide ban on PS.

Backed by environmental advocates, government bodies in support of PS bans state that PS has a negative impact on the environment and enters rivers and oceans. Legislators overall want to move away from single-use plastics toward more recyclable, compostable containers. However, some are misinformed on the value and recyclability of the material. Stanley Zeigler, who serves in the Maine House, was recently quoted in VillageSoup, saying, “Polystyrene just can't be recycled.”

Despite the public backlash, industry leaders are informing a positive narrative around PS and expanding recycling PS programs to reach more customers.

Mason, Michigan-based Dart Container Corp. started offering PS recycling programs in early 1990 and has recycled “tens of millions” of pounds of postconsumer PS in that time. The company aims to increase consumers’ access to PS recycling programs.

“Dart currently operates or services nearly 100 public drop-offs,” says Michael Westerfield, corporate recycling director, Dart Container. “To support residential curbside recycling, an affiliate of Dart, Omni Recycling, built a state-of-the-art-facility in Indianapolis that purchases polystyrene foam from MRFs and reclaims it.”

Dart provides an interactive map at Home for Foam, where residents can find PS recycling drop-off locations across the U.S. The company also offers the Recycla-Pak mail-back program, which allows customers to use a collection device that also serves as a shipping container to collect their PS containers and send to Dart to recycle.

“We are also investing in grants and other programs to increase the public’s access to recycling,” Westerfield notes. “We invest in groups like Association of Plastic Recyclers, Foodservice Packaging Institute, The Recycling Partnership and the Trash Free Seas Alliance to combat litter, prevent marine debris and to increase access to composting and recycling for all of our products.”

Currently, about 1.3 percent of the world’s PS is recycled due to limitations of mechanical recycling, but Agilyx uses chemical recycling to recycle 95 percent of the postconsumer PS it collects into new PS products.

"Single-use products are actually not single-use when they are effectively managed in high-tech processes," Agilyx CEO Joe Vaillancourt says. "Chemical recycling is a better recycling method and has the potential to increase plastic recycling rates from 10 percent currently to over 90 percent."

He adds, "Our process also has a 50 to 70 percent lower carbon footprint compared to virgin polystyrene manufacturing. Support from industry and municipalities will accelerate this transformation in recycling. Improved infrastructure and capital are needed to support large-scale development of chemical recycling."