From to-go containers to coffee cups, many of us use Styrofoam every single day. 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.”