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Recycling Update: new focus on EPS.

Expanded polystyrene bead-molded foam, produced by shape and block molding, has become a coveted raw material for recycling. Although it's a very inexpensive commodity material, consisting largely of air, recyclers are discovering a range of markets for it and means of recovery, and the competition for available sources of material is starting to bid up the price.

Proliferation of equipment to densify expanded-PS waste is vital to recycle this low-density, low-cost plastic. The National Polystyrene Recycling Co., Lincolnshire, Ill., which opened it's Bridgeport, N.J., plant just last month, complementing other NPRC recycling facilities brought on-line in Corona, Calif., and Chicago earlier this year, worked with Toronita Corp. of York, Pa. (see New Products section) to develop an unusual new densifier. "The Toronita densifiers allow us to fill out a tractor trailer with a 40,000-lb load. Now it's a cost-effective trip," says George Mackey, environmental affairs manager of Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., a partner in NPRC.

The Toronita may also allow NPRC to densify and process flame-retardant EPS, not processable in its present densifier, designed by Law Environmental in Atlanta and custom-built by Glenro Inc., Paterson, N.J. The latter densifier uses six open gas flames, at temperatures as high as 1100 F, to shrivel the shredded EPS foam as it passes underneath on a conveyor. However, flame-retardant PS flake degrades in this process, so NPRC tests each piece of "raw" EPS waste with a hot copper wire to spot the telltale green flicker of brominated flame retardants (known as the Bielstein test). Any flame-retardant material discovered in this fashion must be reshipped to other recyclers. NPRC and other EPS recyclers originally expected to receive about 10% flame-retardant waste, but say they're actually getting 30-40%.

A resin company source says resin company R&D is pursuing a patentable chemical approach to flame-retardant processing, which could be in commercial use early next year.

(Incidentally, NPRC centers have a totally separate processing line to grind, wash, dry, and repelletize foam and solid PS foodservice ware.)


In addition to NPRC (a partnership of PS resin producers), a new group called the Association of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR), representing all 78 EPS custom shape molders in the U.S. and three EPS materials producers, announced a broad collection and recycling program in July. AFPR is a new subgroup of the PS Packaging Council, Washington, D.C., which previously had focused on recycling food-service PS. The new group is goig after large, clean chunks of industrial EPS packaging, with the goal of recycling 25% of the 150 million 1b/yr of EPS used.

AFPR members' 115 or more plants are to be collection points for clean used or waste EPS from industry, retailers or consumers. Waste EPS may be picked up by AFPR member delivery trucks or dropped off free of charge at member plants. Before the program, AFPR says its members already recycled some 10 million 1b/yr of post-consumer or post-industrial EPS, excluding in-plant waste. PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY recently asked about a third of AFPR members what recycling equipment they have and how many 1b/month of EPS they collect.

Answers ranged from "no recycling yet" at some small one-plant molders, who say they haven't space, money or time to recycle, up to "100,000 1b/month" at Tuscarora Plastics Inc., based in New Brighton, Pa., which has 17 plants with five Toronita densifiers.

EPS waste sourcing has been highly unpredictable, with prices for undensified EPS waste varying from nothing to 10 cents/1b. Most recyclers hope to pay nothing for EPS waste and break even on transportation and capital costs. But as demand grows among recyclers, the price is starting to rise.

Free-Flow Packaging Inc., Redwood City, Calif., and NPRC each have three recycling plants and pay 6-10 cents/1b for clean EPS. Free-Flow uses recycle in extruding its loosefill packing material (see PT, Aug. '91, p. 122). Other molders, like Marko Foam Products in Corona, Calif., which has four regional plants, pay nothing for EPS. Marko shared the $39,000 cost of a Toronita densifier with customers in Oregon, but California collection is disappointing" says Marko co-owner Sally Peterson, because large-volume sources of EPS are selling to Free-Flow Packaging instead for 7 cents/1b. Topper Plastics, Covina, Calif., says it gets 10 cents/1b from the NPRC. "Now we're not getting material. It's all changing very rapidly," says Marko's Peterson.

Tuscarora, like Marko, invested substantially in densifying equipment and hoped to break even on it: five Toronita densifiers; a large custom baler from Selco Products, Inc., Baxley, Ga. (model HL50PS with 1000-1800 1b/hr throughput, costing $68,000); two additional small balers leased from Selco; and a new dual-diameter densifying extruder (see New Products section) from MK Recycling Inc., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

MK Recycling began a year ago as a confidential R&D project among several AFPR members, including Advance Foam in Denver, Contour Packaging, Inc. in Kansas City, Kans., and NPS Corp. in Perryville, Mo. MK partner Dick Dempsey says the MK extruder with its low-melt-temperature screw design has "the flame-retardant problem whipped." Besides Tuscarora, Advance Foam, and Contour Packaging, MK recycling extruders are being used by Foam Fabricators in Maple Lake, Minn., Storopack in Germany, and Promotora Merhen in Mexico.

Tuscarora says it reuses 7-9% recycle as ground flake mixed into its own shape-molded products. Tuscarora is also the main source of recycle for Arco Chemical Co., Newtown Square, Pa., which is June introduced Dylite R2595B resin, the first commercial EPS with 25% recycled content. Arco's recycle is processed by Polysource Inc., Sydney, Ohio, which has eight Toronita densifiers stationed at various collection points around the country. Polysource v.p. Patrick Anderlind says his firm offers shape molders lease options for Toronita densifiers and transportation costs from the molder's plant to the recycling facility, and that Polysource also pays on a per-pound basis for the EPS foam waste.

Waste EPS generally isn't recycled back into flame-retardant construction products because of building-code restrictions. However, Styro-Molders Corp. of Denver has found several markets for EPS waste, including sheet for concrete construction where a high percentage of ground EPS is used. Styro-Molders' two plants collect 10,000 1b/month of waste EPS, and the firm is buying an MK Recycling extruder to densify it.



Some molders say that recycling waste EPS back into shape-molded EPS again makes neither business nor environmental sense. Transporting low-bulk-density EPS waste around the country, baling, densifying, and pelletizing it, adds more cost than value. So some companies are looking to develop proprietary higher-value products to make with recycled EPS close to where it's generated.

Bob Ahrens, owner of Imperial Foam & Insulation in Ormond Beach, Fla., grinds recycled EPS and uses about 500 1b/week, blending it at 15% loading into thick foam pallets. He also sells ground foam to a company that sprays it onto textured ceilings. But Ahrens' most imaginative use is recutting waste EPS sheet into shapes used by gift-packing stores. Recutting is done on a computerized x-y foam cutter developed by Ahrens, which he plans to patent and commercialize. "You draw a two-dimensional picture on a computer, overlap it with a CNC program and download to the cutter," Ahrens says. He has sold one machine and several more are on order. His developmental x-y cutter costs $70,000 including software. (CIRCLE 15)
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Title Annotation:Industry News
Author:Schut, Jan H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:CIM on a large scale.
Next Article:Arburg unveils plans for North America.

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