Technology Advancements and Investments Spur Polystyrene Recycling

Like its cousin the plastic bag, polystyrene foam has also been the talk of bans, but despite a bad reputation for being unrecyclable, there’s a lot of activity on the EPS reclaim front.

More than 118 million pounds of EPS were recycled in 2016, including 63 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 55.7 million pounds of post-industrial packaging, according to the 2016 EPS Recycling Rate Report. Over the past decade, EPS has achieved an average recycling rate of 15%, one of the highest of the plastics family, according to the EPS Industry Alliance.

There’s been a couple of news items related to polystyrene recycling that should hopefully boost those numbers even more in the future.

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Pyrowave and Ineos Styrolution America LLC have formed a strategic partnership to support Pyrowave’s North American polystyrene recycling project. The objective of this project is to demonstrate the recyclability of post-consumer polystyrene packaging using Pyrowave’s Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization (CMD) technology. This consortium project will be represented with various actors from the value chain of the polystyrene industry, and INEOS is the first manufacturer to join the consortium. While currently only operating in Montreal, Pyrowave plans to install additional systems in other parts of North America.

Ralf Leinemann, global manager public relations & marketing communications for INEOS Styrolution, told me that the partnership was initiated through a customer in Canada, who provided information about the work and technology from Pyrowave. The company’s unique patented technology unzips plastics back into its initial chemical constituents, he says. The concept is based on placing small, modular units directly onsite at recycling facilities and at producers of plastics parts.

Pyrowave spent three years exploring the technology on post-consumer polystyrene waste, and it can now process approximately one to three tons/day.

According to Pyrowave, the machines can depolymerize (or break down) post-consumer polystyrene materials into a styrene oil with up to a 95 percent yield, which is then shipped to styrene buyers.

“We are very excited to collaborate with Pyrowave in this project. At INEOS Styrolution, we are committed to exploring ways towards a circular economy. Polystyrene is a too valuable material to end up in landfills,” says Ricardo Cuetos, vice president standard products, INEOS Styrolution America. “Pyrowave’s North American project is a significant component in our efforts to recycle polystyrene taking advantage of innovative technologies,” he adds.

Pyrowave spent three years exploring the technology on post-consumer polystyrene waste, and now the company can process approximately one to three tons per day of post-consumer polystyrene material, which includes foodservice packaging items like cups and take-out containers.

Also in Pyrowave news, the company has received a $50,000 grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition to purchase equipment to allow for in-house processing of recycled polystyrene.

"Our initial polystyrene supply is mostly densified because not many jurisdictions know it can be recycled, so we have to source material from far locations until the movement is engaged," said Jocelyn Doucet, CEO of Pyrowave. "With the support of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, we will have the ability to shred the densified material from our partners and reduce our costs of operation at our demonstration facility. Our goal is that once we demonstrate recyclability of polystyrene, we can see more collection programs implemented, which will increase demand for our equipment by local recyclers."

Agilyx Adds Densifier to Polystyrene Conversion Operations

Another company to receive a $50,000 grant from the coalition is Agilyx Corp. to purchase a densifier, allowing for more recycling of foam polystyrene. The Oregon-based energy company, known for converting plastics into valuable commodities, recently expanded to include a polystyrene conversion process. The process uses recycled polystyrene to produce a high-quality styrene monomer and other petrochemical products.

“We are able to handle all types of foam polystyrene materials, including cups and food containers that might still have residue left on them,” says Brian Moe, Agilyx’s vice president of operations. “Agilyx is working hard to bring recycling options to the marketplace that have not existed in the past and are excited to see support for our efforts by the Foam Recycling Coalition.”

Agilyx, which currently works with communities in the Northwest, has the capacity to process over 3,000 tons of polystyrene foam per year. Adding a densifier at the front end of the operation will allow for more efficient recycling and processing of the material.

These grants were made possible through contributions to FPI's Foam Recycling Coalition, which focuses exclusively on increased recycling of post-consumer foam polystyrene. The coalition launched the grant program in 2015 to help fund infrastructure to collect and process these products. Its members include Americas Styrenics; Cascades Canada ULC; CKF Inc.; Chick-fil-A; Commodore; Dart Container Corp.; Dyne-A-Pak; Genpak; Hawaii's Finest Products; INEOS Styrolution; NOVA Chemicals Corp.; Pactiv Foodservice/Food Packaging; and TOTAL Petrochemicals & Refining USA.