Melting the polystyrene problem: Ecycle Solutions

Oct. 29, 2018

Chris Tangey of Ecycle Solutions details a hot melt solution to the accelerating problem of expanded polystyrene.

While demand for expanded polystyrene (EPS) is growing rapidly, recycling rates are still relatively low. On average, Australia consumes 47,000 tonnes of EPS a year, with a recovery rate of 29 per cent, according to the 2018 National Waste Report.

According to Chris Tangey, Ecycle Solutions General Manager, businesses and councils across Australia need to begin taking responsibility and drive the push towards increased EPS recovery rates.

“The volume of EPS waste entering landfill is a grave concern for Australians, as it increases each year alongside the consumption of packaged goods,” he says.

“Now is the time for businesses and councils to invest in EPS recycling and use their social conscious to push Australia towards a circular economy.”

While EPS cannot be collected via standard kerbside systems, Chris adds that businesses and councils can efficiently recycle their EPS waste through Ecycle Solutions’ collection and recovery service.

As an inert material, EPS doesn’t rot or attract pests. Added to that is its strength and lightweight nature, making EPS a versatile and popular building product.

Applications include insulated panel systems for walls, roofs and floors, as well as facades for domestic and commercial buildings.

Additionally, as it’s lightweight, Chris says EPS is an economical packaging material.

“It offers excellent protection and insulation, making it ideal for the storage and transport of fragile and expensive items, especially electronic goods,” Chris says.

As construction and packaging consumption rates continue to rise country over, it’s safe to suggest the volume of EPS waste generation will rise right alongside them.

This, Chris suggests, is in spite of the government and public push to ban single-use plastics.

“EPS is a growing concern for many businesses, as the volume of EPS waste increases each year. Additionally, reducing EPS to landfill is now a priority concern for local councils and governments – as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation aims to reduce packaging waste from landfill by 2025,” Chris says.

As the General Manager of Ecycle Solutions, an innovative nationwide EPS and e-waste recycling provider, Chris says he is well placed to highlight the problems that arise when EPS enters landfill.

“Once in landfill, EPS takes more than 700 years to break down, which places significant strain on our already limited landfill space,” he says.

“EPS, which can be recycled and used to remanufacture new products, is taking up space that should be reserved for waste that can’t be recycled or has no other use. It’s a totally avoidable future cost.”

To help businesses sustainably manage their EPS waste, Ecycle Solutions run a reverse logistics pick-up program.

For just $25 dollars a bag, businesses can have their loose EPS picked up and sent to an Ecycle Solutions depot for recovery.

“It’s often said that EPS recycling is too challenging, but really the only difficulty is in the logistics. If you have to send trucks out for the sole purpose of collecting EPS, it becomes uneconomical.

“This is where we have the advantage,” Chris says.

As a wholly owned subsidiary of QLS Group, a transport and logistics operator, Ecycle Solutions has access to trucks driving around the country at all times.

Chris says this means Ecycle Solutions can avoid the added economic and environmental costs sometimes associated with collections.

When organisations engage Ecycle Solutions for EPS recycling they are provided with a two cubic metre bulk bag and frame.

“The bag stands up nice and rigid, so it’s easy for clients to just throw their loose EPS in as needed. When the bag is full, they let us know and a truck comes to pick it up. It’s a simple process,” Chris says.

“Once the material arrives at one of our depots in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, we run it through heat extruders that perform a hot-melt process.”

The process reduces the material down to two per cent of its original volume.

From there, the material is packed into containers and sent overseas, where it is manufactured into products ranging from picture frames to skirting boards and outdoor furniture.

“Products made from recycled EPS waste maintain their durability and have made EPS a great product for the circular economy,” Chris says.

“With no viable replacement for EPS packaging in sight, businesses must begin doing their part to reduce the environmental strain caused by EPS waste.”

While Chris highlights the simplicity of Ecycle Solutions’ process, he notes that Australia’s EPS recycling rate isn’t where it should be.

“The difficulty is that a lot of these things aren’t a priority for businesses, but EPS is not going away. It’s more than likely going to increase because it has great properties as a product,” Chris says.

Although lightweight, Chris says bulky EPS takes up significant space in bins and skips, meaning true disposal costs are often hidden in a company’s general waste.

“Our collection program offers a simple yet sustainable solution for EPS waste removal and recycling. For businesses with large volumes of EPS waste, we can deliver long-term cost savings, while significantly reducing environmental footprints,” he says.

“We recycle enough loose EPS to fill the MCG each year, which illustrates the scope of our operations. But we’d love to do more, and we certainly have the capacity.”

Originally published by Waste Management Review

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