The foam industry is on a mission to educate Americans about polystyrene’s true environmental impact, and industry representatives hope to change perceptions about their product in the process. The industry relies on encouraging foam recycling statistics and points to a successful foam recycling facility to make a case for the environmental benefits of foam.
According to an October 2014 report from the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Industry Alliance, the recycling rate of polystyrene foam climbed to 35% in 2013. This figure represents a total 127.3 million pounds of post-commercial and post-consumer packaging, as well as post-industrial recovery foam that was processed and recycled in 2013. It’s up nearly 5% year-over-year and has steadily climbed since 1991. As word continues to spread about foam recycling, this number will only continue to rise.
One Utah company is committed to educating the public about foam recycling. Rocky Mountain Recycling – based in Salt Lake City, but servicing 11 states – accepts polystyrene food containers, cups, coolers, and more. Rocky Mountain Recycling takes raw polystyrene materials, cleans and sorts them, densifies them into bricks of foam, and ultimately sells the bricks to manufacturers who turn the foam into consumer goods.
Rocky Mountain Recycling is one of the few Mountain West recycling companies that accepts foam, but the company proves that there is a demand for recycled polystyrene, and that recycling foam is a realistic endeavor. The region could support many more recycling centers that focus on repurposing foam after its initial lifespan.
Many critics of foam products reference the idea that foam products are filling up landfills and littering our streets. However, as the foam industry points out, foam foodservice products make up less than 1% of landfill waste (by both weight and volume).
Similarly, many people recommend compostable products as a more environmentally sustainable alternative to foam, but the foam industry contends that compostable products are not as eco-friendly as their name might suggest. Industry representatives note that since landfills are designed to discourage moisture, sunlight, and oxygen – critical elements in decomposition – compostable products must be taken to an industrial composting facility in order to decompose properly. When compostable products end up in landfills, they are essentially mummified and do not degrade in a reasonable period of time.
As the foam industry continues to inform the public about polystyrene, its hope is that an educated populace will support the responsible use and recycling of foam products in the Mountain West region.