For the longest time, I didn’t think anything could be done with Polystyrene – or better known as Styrofoam. It has the chasing arrows #6 recycling symbol on it? Why can’t I recycle it with all my other plastics and glass. The answer always came back – sorry, no.
The reason is one of simple economics. No one seemed to want recycled Styrofoam. No demand, no need to collect it.
Well, that has changed! About 4 years ago, I heard of a company called ReFoamIt, then out of Framingham, MA. They recycle Styrofoam! I have spoken with Dave and Barbara Sherman, owners of ReFoamIt, a few times over the years at various events and have watched their business grow.
When I first met them at the Westford Farmers Market in 2010, they were hauling the Styrofoam to Rhode Island for processing and held a few collection events a year to collect Styrofoam. Now, they have their own facility in Leominster, MA, hold several collection events, have containers collecting Styrofoam in many towns in MA, have agreements with business that have excess Styrofoam and can accept Styrofoam at their facility.
In Leominster, they sort all the Styrofoam that comes in. Dave explained that they have to separate colored Styrofoam and process it separately. They must also ensure that all of the items are, in fact, polystyrene and are free of any tape or paper. The Styrofoam is then ground into bits. From there it is densified into large blocks for transporting to a manufacturer who will reuse the material. The grinding machine used was found used on ebay! Talk about recycling!
A pickup truck load of Styrofoam can be densified into a block such as the one above. This block is approximately 2 ft. by 1 ft. 10 inches and weighs 38 lbs.
Most of ReFoamIt’s Styrofoam gets sold to a company in Tennessee. “I believe in doing American business in America.”, explains Dave. Recycled foam can be made into picture frames and house molding.
Many towns/cities have containers for their residents to recycle with ReFoamIt. They include Harvard, Newton, Carlisle, South Hadley and Newburyport. Many more, like Sudbury, Westborough, Melrose, and Ipswich, hold special collection days during the year.
Now I am all for REDUCE as the first option, but in some instances it may not be possible. If you can then combine recycling with a cost savings, win-win! The cost savings have to be of interest to businesses. If you are business that deals with a lot of Styrofoam, take a look at this. If you can reduce your number of dumpsters or times they are emptied, you know you will save money!
The picture at the top is one load from a company in Uxbridge, MA. This company sends 2 to 3 trucks weekly with approximately 1200 – 1400 pounds of foam per load. This company makes Styrofoam products and sends their rejects and scrap here for recycling.
A furniture company used to fill 3 dumpsters in less than a week. They were paying to have the 3 dumpsters emptied twice a week costing $60 per dump – that’s $360 per week. Once they found ReFoamIt, they were able to reduce to one trash dumpster, emptied once per week, and one Styrofoam container emptied once per week. This saved them about $200 per week in trash fees. Dave related a similar story involving a hospital that saves $4,000 per year in trash fees by recycling their foam.
If you would like to recycle your Styrofoam, call ReFoamIt to arrange for an appointment. A few other tips I picked up from Dave:
- Remove any tape
- Make sure there is a #6 recycling symbol
- Do not crush or break the pieces. They need to be able to see the #6 recycling symbol.
- Packing peanuts not accepted. They can go to a UPS or similar shipping company.
- Foam wrappers like this, are not accepted
For more information on what is and is not accepted, look here.