Bruce Le Gros considers how recyclers can handle and profit from the rapidly growing expanded polystyrene waste stream
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is 100% recyclable but how can you profit from collecting, processing and transporting this material?
With hundreds of different applications, EPS is one of the most durable, shock absorbent, buoyant and versatile materials, with high insulation properties. It has a wide range of uses, from products in the construction sector, including building insulation and interior mouldings; to thermal containers such as fishboxes. It can be reused as expanded polystyrene foam or remade into products such as coat hangers, archery targets and picture frames.
The secondary commodity market pays a premium for the material as clean recyclate devoid of tramp material.
Increased awareness of the value of EPS as a secondary material will improve recycling rates, along with creating a higher value for the material. This will in turn help create a natural diversion of the material from landfill.
EPS is less than 5% plastic, the remainder is air introduced into the bead at the expansion stage of moulding foam products. One of the material’s key down sides is that it is non-degradable, making it a hazard to the environment on land and at sea if not recycled.
But there are now a growing number of collection points and council waste collection centres for the material, as well as an increasing number of processors and reprocessors handling the material.
Two of the key cost hurdles to an effective and profitable EPS recycling programme are collection and efficient transportation.
As the material is ultra-lightweight and high volume, compaction enhances margins and reduces transport costs. Ratios of up to 50:1 can be achieved on EPS, thereby significantly reducing its volume.
Auger-type machines rather than balers are more successful in removing ‘memory’ from the material as compacting and densification is done in a single process. These machines work on the principle of efficient processing for the best energy efficiency to tonnage output.
Some auger machines, such as the Heger Lion, offer high-quality all-in-one solutions, incorporating pre-breaking, compacting and sealing the output log surface. This creates a crumb-free product and produces a material that is ready to put on pallets, film wrap and stack in yards, awaiting reuse.
One of Fercell’s clients, Alwin, based in Cradley Heath, West Midlands, bought a Heger foam compactor to handle the EPS it received from customers, generated from packaging.
Alwin was concerned the material was a fire risk to its site – which compaction helps to reduce - and wanted a solution that would also cut down the storage room it took and cost for transporting the material.
The company now compacts the EPS into logs, which are pallet stacked and shrink wrapped, before being transported at reduced cost.
Another client, Plymouth-based Manuplas, has cut its waste removal costs using a foam compactor. It supplies the Dartmoor Zoological Park with the compacted foam logs it produces for use in its animal enclosures and pathways, but is looking to use the recycled foam eventually within its own products.
Some foam materials that have been co-formed with wire frames, ferrous brackets, plastic fixings and textile flocking, the sorting of these additional materials into separate waste streams is required. This is commonly done using a single shaft shredder as the prime mover, then ferrous separation using magnets and non-ferrous separation using eddy currents. Other materials can be separated with sensor sorting. These additional waste streams, separated out, then hold value in their own right.
Bruce Le Gros is Fercell Engineering’s Marketing and Communications Manager