APPLETON (NBC 26) — From to-go containers to coffee cups, many of us use Styrofoam every single day. In fact, hundreds of thousands of polystyrene products are manufactured each year, but less than 4 percent of it actually gets recycled, according to the EPA.
Outagamie County Recycling & Solid Waste is finding a solution: it's called a polystyrene foam densifier, or as they like to call it, a 'foam dome.'
“It kind of looks like a big fax machine," said Marissa Michalkiewicz, Recycling and Solid Waste Program Coordinator. "It takes polystyrene foam, it crunches it up and takes out the air, and then it heats it up to 150-plus degrees and extrudes raw polystyrene, which we're able to recycle.”
Staff at the Tri-County Recycling Center will insert Styrofoam products, from takeout containers and packaging pieces that come with new technology and furniture, into the hopper of densifier, which essentially chops up the pieces, taking out the air (Styrofoam products are approximately 98 percent air, said Michalkiewicz). Once it's processed, it kind of comes out "looking like soft-serve ice cream," she said. The block that comes out is approximately a whole super-sack of polystyrene foam packaging, which the Center is then able to sell in the market.
“This material is a very common material in packaging products," said Michalkiewicz. "It's also a common food service packaging product. So just by bringing it to us, we're able to recycle it. It's not going to sit in a landfill forever. We're actually able to get that back in the market, or it's going to be turned into picture frames and all sorts of alternative materials.”
You don't even need to be an Outagamie County resident to utilize this service; anyone can come to the Resource Recovery Park and drop off their Styrofoam products.
“We're expanding, we're accepting more materials, even though it may not be curbside and it is a drop-off program, making that available to residents keeps those items out of the landfill, it does recover them," said Alex Nett, Resource Recovery Administrator. "So it's just important to keep those materials in the system, and being reused so that we save the landfill space as well as create new materials.”
This holiday season, the Center wants everyone to be mindful about their waste, and be careful not to 'wish-cycle.'
“A lot of people just like to hope that once they put it in their cart, it’s recycled, which isn't always the case," said Nett. "For us, we can only take certain items, especially those that only have markets, so even though that people may wish that it was recyclable, if there is no market for us to take it to, we cannot recycle it unfortunately. So we always encourage people to look what they should be putting in their recycling bins instead of just putting it in and just hoping for the best.”
Luckily, we don't have to wish-cycle Styrofoam any more, thanks to the new polystyrene foam densifier.
The Resource Recovery Park is open Monday – Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. The Park will be closed on Thanksgiving. Residents can drop off any polystyrene products, as long as it has the '6' logo on the bottom, indicating it is a recyclable product; ie, packing peanuts are not an eligible item to recycle.