Polystyrene (also often called styrofoam) is one of the most common forms of plastic. You see it in take-out coffee cups and egg cartons, it is the packing material used to cushion goods for shipping and has many more uses.
The unfortunate fact is that it is often easier and cheaper to produce new polystyrene than it is to collect, transport and process material for recycling.
We get our raw materials like salmon, trout and mackerel delivered in polyboxes, and due to their stable and insulating qualities, it is very difficult to replace with a more ecological material. But of course we want to be environmentally responsible and call in a recycler who takes the boxes off us on a regular basis to compresse them on the spot with a machine in the back of his truck.
Compressing polyboxes is a first step to recycling. Carrying truckloads of light, bulky polystyrene to recycling centers is usually not economical so recyclers have found ways to compact the material to a more manageable size. Balers take foam packaging and compress it, reducing the bulk to a great extent: four pallets of compressed bricks correspond to four 40-foot containers!
The bricks you can see in the video below will be exported to mainland Europe where they are being recycled to be plastic-based products like coat hangers, bicycle helmets, insulation material for buildings and much more.
An interesting use of recycled EPS (expanded polystyrene) is a product that looks like wood and can be used for park benches and fence posts. The material costs less than hardwood and can be used instead of woods such as mahogany and teak, which are harvested from rainforests.
Thermal recycling is another way of getting a bit of good out of polystyrene. When it is burned in municipal incinerators, polystyrene yields nothing but carbon dioxide and water vapor. It's a good fuel for waste-to-energy programmes that capture the heat and turn it to useful purposes.
Making polystyrene requires petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. So, recycling this material reduces the amount of oil needed for the manufacturing process. This is not a pure gain, of course, because some energy must still be used to transport and reprocess the material, but it sure is a way more preferable option to it ending up in a landfill.
The most visible benefit of polystyrene recycling is in the reduction of litter both on land and in the sea. EPS (expanded polystyrene) which is not affected by oxygen, sunlight or water, stays around indefinitely.
EPS also poses a threat to marine life. As it wears out over time, it disintegrates into tiny particles, which look like food to fish and other marine animals and may be eaten. The foam clogs the digestive systems of all marine life forms without giving them any nutrients, and effectively killing them.
So, recycling does matter! Here a video we took when our own fish boxes were compressed at our premises recently.