Where Demand Exceeds Supply


There are plenty of products on our shelves these days that are eco-friendly and made from recycled materials. Examples? Purses made from recycled plastic bottles. Leather laptop cases made from leftover scraps of shoe leather. Even jewelry can be pieced together with recycled leather and glass. But, here’s a real brain buster: what about picture frames? What if we told you that picture frames are made from a recycled material that you often throw away?


That’s right, picture frames are just one of many products that can be made from recycled polystyrene (PS) and expanded polystyrene (EPS). Recently, the plastics industry has been raising awareness to help decision makers of material recovery facilities (MRFs) understand that there are reasonable options for adding this product to their collection and processing streams. So, let’s shine some light on those streams and find out how we can increase the amount of PS and EPS we recycle.


There are two approaches for collecting and sorting the recycled materials. The first is hand-sorting; (which is conducted at many places including Burrtec’s West Valley MRF in Fontana, CA) materials such as paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum and plastic are collected from curbside recycling programs and then picked out by hand on the line. EPS is among these materials and is sorted the same way as all the rest. The second is machine sorting (which is done at Titus MRF Services in Los Angeles, CA). As intriguing as it sounds, these optical sorting machines can identify the lightweight PS and EPS items and trigger air jets that blow them upward to a specific line.


Despite the sorting method, the material at both facilities is densified by pressure into blocks so it can be easily transported to a reclamation facility. These ‘reclaimers’ then turn the recycled plastic into the raw material that manufacturers of new products need. The best part (at least in our opinion!) is that right now demand is exceeding supply! In which case, manufacturers are looking for more recycled materials to make their products. One company, NEPCO Moldings in Ontario, CA, doesn’t have enough recycled EPS available to purchase to run their operations at full capacity. Yes, you read that correctly: only eight of their ten manufacturing lines are currently running due to insufficient recycled materials!


So the good news is that there is plenty of potential for more PS and EPS recycling. Now it’s up to us to be more conscious of curbside recycling programs and do our part to recycle foam to put more eco-friendly products on our shelves in the future!