High Point Styrofoam recycling program kicks into high gear

Effort begun last fall continues this spring with daily downtown pickup of Styrofoam through the April market

HIGH POINT — Thanks to a new program being offered by the city of High Point, furniture market exhibitors now can recycle Styrofoam, thus keeping a bulky and hard-to-decompose material out of the waste stream.

A densifier purchased by the city chops up Styrofoam materials such as packaging and cups into pellets that are then melted at about 180 degrees and come out of the machine in a tubular-shaped form also known as an ingot. Rows of ingots in turn are palletized and shipped to Canada to be turned into insulation for tiny homes.

To participate in the program, companies can simply bag blocks of Styrofoam packaging materials and place them at the curbside on Tuesdays and Thursdays alongside cardboard and other general waste. Starting around early next week, the city will increase pickup frequency to daily through the April 13-17 High Point Market.

The city of High Point picks up Stryofoam to be recycled outside the 220 Elm building downtown.

As product such as upholstery is often wrapped in plastic bags, the city recommends placing the material in these same bags, which helps keep it both dry and free of dirt and grime.

The type of Styrofoam that the city is recycling is known as polystyrene or Plastic No. 6, which is identified on the surface of the packaging material, much like the Nos. 1 or 2 seen in a triangle on the bottom of plastic containers. According to the city website, www.recyclingfoam.com, the program accepts things like packaging material with the No. 6 as well as Styrofoam cups, containers, egg cartons and foam coolers. It doesn’t accept things like packaging peanuts, packaging tape, bubble wrap or foam wrapping materials.

Teresa Baker, recycling program coordinator for the city of High Point, shows the type of Styrofoam that can be recycled.

The city first extended the program to the industry during the last October market, and collected between 2,200 and 2,500 pounds of the material at that time, said Dean Roach, Materials Recovery Facility supervisor for the city of High Point Recycling division. It is now looking to increase participation from others in the industry that may not already be familiar with the program.

The city has long offered a cardboard recycling program that helps eliminate this type of bulky waste from landfills. Styrofoam is much lighter than cardboard as it’s made up of an estimated 95% air. However, because of its bulk, it often takes up as much if not more space in landfills. It also is difficult to decompose, particularly if it is covered up by other waste and thus not exposed to water or air.

“You can have a whole tractor-trailer load full of expanded polystyrene and it weighs virtually nothing,” said Teresa Baker, recycling program coordinator for the city of High Point. “It’s like hauling air. It’s just the mass of it because it’s so bulky. And once it goes into a landfill, it’s like embalming it. It goes in there and you are covering it up with dirt and you’re not allowing air to get to it. So it’s really not going to decompose.”

In this way, she noted, the material is similar to newspapers from 50-60 years ago that also don’t decompose as you can still read the print after they are dug up.

This densifier machine chops up Styrofoam and, at high temperatures, extracts it into tubular shapes that are then used as insulation in tiny homes.

By getting the word out, officials hope that participation in the program increases now and well into the future.

“It takes some effort to separate things like this into the appropriate piles and it’s definitely something that we don’t want to go into our landfill,” Baker said. “You can imagine the amounts of it that you get during the furniture market and the benefits of it going to the recycling center to be recycled.”

“The amount of cardboard and polystyrene being diverted from landfills has been significant, and we expect this trend to continue as awareness of our recycling services grows among showrooms and businesses,” she added.

The program has been applauded by showroom executives that are looking for ways to help minimize what goes into the landfill.

“This is a wonderful initiative by the city and their environmental department,” said Heinz Kattenfeld, chief operating officer of showroom building 220 Elm. “They have a great team and we are happy that we can help them recycle foam and keep it out of the landfill. High Point recycles about 500 tons of cardboard each year and this will enhance our positive impact on the environment.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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One thought on “High Point Styrofoam recycling program kicks into high gear

  1. I think this idea is a long time in the making. I worked for a retailer in middle Tennessee who took my advice and achieved incredible awards from the state by simply purchasing a $19,000 melting type densifier (the other type is compression). The county said that we kept a pile of Styrofoam several feet thick the size of a football field from entering the landfill. EPS is recyclable and as you can see in this article, it can be sent somewhere else in a densified form for reuse. That’s the very definition of sustainability. Thanks for covering this important topic and I’d love to see more articles relating to how our industry can prevent filling the landfills with materials that can have other purposes.

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