Recycling...on the Rise
| Stored Energy
So…what if a community (or a school, restaurant, supermarket, business) wants the advantages of plastic foodservice packaging… and to recycle more of its waste? Many valiant efforts over the past few decades have demonstrated what works and what doesn’t when it comes to recycling foodservice packaging in the U.S.
Note: The recycling activities described below are predominately about recycling foam
foodservice packaging, nearly all of which is made from one type of plastic: polystyrene.
ACCESS TO RECYCLING
As plastics recycling in general continues to grow, access to foam foodservice packaging recycling also has grown.
- A 2012 study found that 31 percent of the U.S. population has access to foam foodservice packaging recycling.
- A 2013 study found that a total of one half the population of the 50 largest California cities has access to foam foodservice packaging recycling. In contrast, only two percent of this population has access to paper foodservice packaging recycling.
- The same study found that 16 percent of the population of the 50 largest U.S. cities has access to foam foodservice packaging recycling, while six percent has access to paper foodservice packaging recycling.
New studies are underway, and these statistics will be updated when complete.
Note: These studies measure only access to recycling and do not measure actual recycling. Now let’s take a look at some of the active programs.
PSFoamRecycling.org is an interactive website that allows Americans and Canadians to search for local recycling programs that collect protective foam packaging and foam food packaging. The site also identifies foam packaging “mail back” programs for areas where local recycling does not exist.
Today there are many innovative recycling programs for foam foodservice packaging—some of which were initiated by school kids!
Here are some examples:
- California curbside: Dozens of California cities, including our nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles, and the state capitol, Sacramento, collect foam packaging in curbside recycling programs. These recycling programs accept foam foodservice packaging, such as coffee cups and take-out containers—residents simply clean and toss them in the blue bin with other recyclables.
- Denver curbside: In late 2015, a recycling facility in the Denver area began recycling foam foodservice and protective packaging that is collected in curbside bins.
- Future: Cities interested in learning more about including foam foodservice packaging in recycling programs, please click here.
Note: For locations of curbside recycling programs in Canada that include foam foodservice packaging, please click here
- Multiple locations: There is a growing number of locations in the U.S. where people can drop-off foam foodservice packaging for recycling. Find them here and here.
- San Joaquin County, California: Read about a community that has found a way to "close the loop" on foam foodservice packaging recycling.
- Foam cups: A well-known quick service restaurant has launched a foam cup recycling program. Watch the video.
- Advertising: In some California communities that recycle foam foodservice packaging at curbside, restaurants post signs encouraging customers to participate.
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: Staffers at this park collect foam packaging for recycling, including cups, plates, take-out containers, and egg cartons.
So how do these recycling programs work? And what happens to the recycled plastic?
Recycling this stuff is fairly simple, but not always easy. Because foam packaging is more than 90% air, it typically is collected (usually clean) at centralized facilities to make its transport economical. To get more foam on a truck, most programs then “densify” it prior to shipping it for recycling.
The densified foam plastic then is simply ground up, heated and recast into plastic pellets. These pellets are sold to companies that make products such as “green building
” construction materials, consumer goods, egg cartons, plastic packaging and other products
For a more detailed description of the recycling process, check out the Foam Recycling Coalition
NON-FOODSERVICE PACKAGING RECYCLING
What about recycling foam packaging that’s not used for foodservice? Recycling of protective packaging made from EPS (expanded polystyrene) continues to rise—to a recycling rate of 34 percent
, according to the EPS Industry Alliance
Check out these videos that demonstrate various aspects of foam packaging recycling:
- Watch as the “Waste Sleuth” investigates the recycling process from foam cup to a new product.
- Watch foam packaging get ground up and turned back into “raw” plastic.
- Check out Walmart's polystyrene foam recycling program.
- Watch what our friends in Canada are doing to increase recycling of foam packaging.
Want to look further into plastics recycling? Check out these sites
from the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division that help explain various types of plastics recycling programs.