The steps to recycling foam

The following steps are recommended to establish a new foam packaging recovery programme.

1. Identify the quality and quantity of foam in your waste stream

The first step in recycling foam is to identify the quality and quantity of foam in the waste stream, as this will influence the ability to market it. Polymer identification symbols are now frequently used to distinguish between different packaging types. The symbol for polystyrene and thus foam is shown in

Figure 1. Another common identifier for EPS is the fact that it floats in water.

“Clean” foam packaging has no extra labelling or marks and is often used to package electrical goods, car parts, or similar items. “Contaminated” foam could have paper labels, staples, or sticky tape on it, or could have been used to carry fish, plants, fruit or vegetables. Both clean and contaminated foam
packaging can be recycled, but the process is different so it is vital that the two are separated.
Contaminated foam packaging needs to go through a special cleaning phase when it is reprocessed, which clean foam packaging does not require.

2. Investigate available markets

Once you have identified the qualities and quantities of foam packaging in your waste stream the next step is to investigate available markets for the material, as this may influence how you proceed with collection. The more foam packaging an individual business can recover the better are its chances of finding a recycler willing to take it. The foam Packaging Group can advise you on potential markets for your material.

3. Establish collection points

Collection of recovered foam packaging should be integrated into the day to day business operation.The first step in determining where collection points should be located is assessing where foam wastes are routinely generated, and whether the waste generated at each point is clean or contaminated.

Next the current rubbish collection points and any existing recycling points must be considered. If a rubbish container is located near a workers station and the collection point for foam is 100 metres away, the likelihood of that worker participating in foam packaging recovery is reduced. Locating recycling points near rubbish bins increases the incentive for people to participate in waste separation and decreases the chance for contamination with unwanted materials.

4. Establish storage and handling protocols
Recycling companies will collect foam packaging for recycling once a sufficient quantity has been stored up. Some will take the packaging exactly as it is, although a majority will want the packaging compacted and baled. Compacting foam allows easy, cost-effective transportation. On-site storage will be needed for recovered foam packaging prior to collection. It is important to keep clean and contaminated material separate and stored in such a way that contamination of clean foam is minimised. If compaction of the material is required a compactor can be purchased and material compacted on site. Alternatively it may be possible to lease a compactor from a local recycler, or see if a local waste management company would be willing to collect and compact the material.

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