Foam coolers, some coffee cups and meat packing trays – items that are often used once and then thrown away – will find a new life through a pilot program at the Metro South transfer station.
Metro, in partnership with Agilyx, will now collect expanded polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam, products at the facility in Oregon City. Instead of going into the landfill, these items will be recycled into new products.
Agilyx is an advanced recycling company that specializes in converting plastics into new plastic items that can be continuously reused. Before this pilot program, their facility in Tigard was one of the few places in greater Portland that could reuse polystyrene waste.
Prep your load
When bringing your Styrofoam and expanded polystyrene foam to Metro South, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- There is a $10 flat fee for each load of Styrofoam
- Keep the foam separated from the rest of your load
- Keep it clean; remove all tape, labels and rinse off any food residue
- Bring it to the receiving areas of Metro South, if you are unsure where to go, ask the spotter for assistance.
If you are unsure if your foam is made of polystyrene, bring it anyway and Metro will dispose of it.
“This partnership with Agilyx is an opportunity to be more sustainable and to increase the number of products we can recycle,” said Penny Erickson, superintendent at Metro South.
Expanded polystyrene foam is often used in packaging materials, providing the form-fitted buffer for electronics, appliances and furniture. It can also be found in foam take-out containers and egg cartons.
Erickson said having this option is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused a large shift in spending habits.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, there are so many people ordering food to go or getting essential needs delivered, which increases the amount of Styrofoam in peoples’ homes,” Erickson said. “This pilot program gives people a way recycle these products and get more out of our extracted resources.”
Want to know if foam in your home is made of polystyrene? Look for the number six resin code.
Another way to tell if the foam is made from Styrofoam is to pinch it with your fingers - if it bends or squishes, it is likely a different kind of foam plastic. Look for foam that breaks into chunks when handled.
At Metro South, the foam will be collected by Metro employees. Agilyx will condense the foam and then ship it to their Tigard location. There, the polystyrene will be chemically broken down into its base molecule – a styrene monomer.
The value of this kind of chemical recycling is that the polystyrene foam doesn’t lose integrity as it is recycled. A Styrofoam cooler that goes through this process can be reformed into the same quality foam cooler.
Matt Durbin, vice president for operations at Agilyx, said there is no limit to the times this foam cooler could be recycled into a new polystyrene product.
“The recycled styrene monomer that we produce is used directly by other manufactures to make new products,” Durbin said.
The pilot program supports Metro’s efforts to lessen the negative health and environmental impacts from products that people use everyday.Using recycled polystyrene is more environmentally friendly too. According to a press release from Agilyx, products created with recycled Styrofoam have up to a 70% lower carbon footprint than products made from virgin plastics.
For Durbin, the partnership with Metro would expand the ability for Agilyx to collect and recycle Styrofoam.
“We've been trying to work with the local municipalities to do take-back programs,” Durbin said. “This is an awesome way to start that partnership with Metro to take something that would normally just go into the trash.”