Melting the polystyrene problem: Ecycle Solutions

Chris Tangey of Ecycle Solutions details a hot melt solution to the accelerating problem of expanded polystyrene.

While demand for expanded polystyrene (EPS) is growing rapidly, recycling rates are still relatively low. On average, Australia consumes 47,000 tonnes of EPS a year, with a recovery rate of 29 per cent, according to the 2018 National Waste Report.

According to Chris Tangey, Ecycle Solutions General Manager, businesses and councils across Australia need to begin taking responsibility and drive the push towards increased EPS recovery rates.

“The volume of EPS waste entering landfill is a grave concern for Australians, as it increases each year alongside the consumption of packaged goods,” he says.

“Now is the time for businesses and councils to invest in EPS recycling and use their social conscious to push Australia towards a circular economy.”

While EPS cannot be collected via standard kerbside systems, Chris adds that businesses and councils can efficiently recycle their EPS waste through Ecycle Solutions’ collection and recovery service.

As an inert material, EPS doesn’t rot or attract pests. Added to that is its strength and lightweight nature, making EPS a versatile and popular building product.

Applications include insulated panel systems for walls, roofs and floors, as well as facades for domestic and commercial buildings.

Additionally, as it’s lightweight, Chris says EPS is an economical packaging material.

“It offers excellent protection and insulation, making it ideal for the storage and transport of fragile and expensive items, especially electronic goods,” Chris says.

As construction and packaging consumption rates continue to rise country over, it’s safe to suggest the volume of EPS waste generation will rise right alongside them.

This, Chris suggests, is in spite of the government and public push to ban single-use plastics.

“EPS is a growing concern for many businesses, as the volume of EPS waste increases each year. Additionally, reducing EPS to landfill is now a priority concern for local councils and governments – as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation aims to reduce packaging waste from landfill by 2025,” Chris says.

As the General Manager of Ecycle Solutions, an innovative nationwide EPS and e-waste recycling provider, Chris says he is well placed to highlight the problems that arise when EPS enters landfill.

“Once in landfill, EPS takes more than 700 years to break down, which places significant strain on our already limited landfill space,” he says.

“EPS, which can be recycled and used to remanufacture new products, is taking up space that should be reserved for waste that can’t be recycled or has no other use. It’s a totally avoidable future cost.”

To help businesses sustainably manage their EPS waste, Ecycle Solutions run a reverse logistics pick-up program.

For just $25 dollars a bag, businesses can have their loose EPS picked up and sent to an Ecycle Solutions depot for recovery.

“It’s often said that EPS recycling is too challenging, but really the only difficulty is in the logistics. If you have to send trucks out for the sole purpose of collecting EPS, it becomes uneconomical.

“This is where we have the advantage,” Chris says.

As a wholly owned subsidiary of QLS Group, a transport and logistics operator, Ecycle Solutions has access to trucks driving around the country at all times.

Chris says this means Ecycle Solutions can avoid the added economic and environmental costs sometimes associated with collections.

When organisations engage Ecycle Solutions for EPS recycling they are provided with a two cubic metre bulk bag and frame.

“The bag stands up nice and rigid, so it’s easy for clients to just throw their loose EPS in as needed. When the bag is full, they let us know and a truck comes to pick it up. It’s a simple process,” Chris says.

“Once the material arrives at one of our depots in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, we run it though heat extruders that perform a hot melt process.”

The process reduces the material down to two per cent of its original volume.

From there, the material is packed into containers and sent overseas, where it is manufactured into products ranging from picture frames to skirting boards and outdoor furniture.

“Products made from recycled EPS waste maintain their durability and have made EPS a great product for the circular economy,” Chris says.

“With no viable replacement for EPS packaging in sight, businesses must begin doing their part to reduce the environmental strain caused by EPS waste.”

While Chris highlights the simplicity of Ecycle Solutions’ process, he notes that Australia’s EPS recycling rate isn’t where it should be.

“The difficulty is that a lot of these things aren’t a priority for businesses, but EPS is not going away. It’s more than likely going to increase because it has great properties as a product,” Chris says.

Although lightweight, Chris says bulky EPS takes up significant space in bins and skips, meaning true disposal costs are often hidden in a company’s general waste.

“Our collection program offers a simple yet sustainable solution for EPS waste removal and recycling. For businesses with large volumes of EPS waste, we can deliver long-term cost savings, while significantly reducing environmental footprints,” he says.

“We recycle enough loose EPS to fill the MCG each year, which illustrates the scope of our operations. But we’d love to do more, and we certainly have the capacity.”

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Melting for the Yarra: Applied Machinery

With a recent report revealing polystyrene to be the most common waste material in Victoria’s Yarra River, Daniel Fisher of Applied Machinery outlines an efficient equipment solution.

Polystyrene, which can take centuries to degrade, is the most prevalent litter item in Melbourne’s Yarra River, according to a new state government report.

The plastic was found at 80 per cent of sites in the Yarra River catchment monitored in a Cleanwater Group and Yarra Riverkeepers study.

“Since 2018, polystyrene has consistently been found to be the highest littered item found on the river,” the report reads.

“Being both a light-weight and brittle material means that the ecological impacts of polystyrene, which can unfold gradually over time, can be widespread and devastating for the river and Port Phillip Bay.”

According to Expanded Polystyrene Australia, an estimated 71,000 tonnes of polystyrene is used annually, growing at a rate of five per cent each year.

Add to ubiquity the material’s notoriously difficult to recycle composition, and Australia’s natural environment has a problem.

While the situation may seem dire to some, according to Daniel Fisher of Applied Machinery, recycling solutions do exist.

First showcased in Australia at the 2019 Waste Expo Australia, Daniel says Applied’s new range of Greenmax EPS recycling machines represent a technological step forward for polystyrene recycling.

When it comes to polystyrene, Greenmax is an internationally renowned specialist. Committed to providing complete polystyrene recycling solutions, Greenmax’s densifiers have been sold in more than 70 countries across the world.

Greenmax Mars C200 hot melt machines operate via a hot melting system, with material initially crushed before heat is introduced. Following this, the liquified material is squeezed out of the machine, and once cooled, shaped into plastic ingots for resale.

“After the shredding, heating and extruding process is complete, the end product has a volume reduction ratio of up to 90:1. This has obvious storage and transport benefits, with a once difficult-to-manoeuvre product transformed into high-value, densified blocks ready for reprocessing,” Daniel says.

Greenmax Mars’ melters are suitable for all kinds of polystyrene material, Daniel says, with a competitive price point for a quality and reliable machine.

He adds that the machines can process most forms of foam plastic waste, including EPE, EPS and EPP.

Daniel explains that given polystyrene’s lightweight and low-density nature, it can be extremely difficult to transport it economically for recycling.

“With Greenmax’s relatively modest footprint, however, the machine is suitable for installation at smaller-scale, local operations,” he says.

The Greenmax series features screw melting technology that enables continuous outputs, with high-density ingot weights of up to 25 tonnes per 40-foot-high cube container load.

The machine enables three temperature control stages to keep output colour as white as possible, with easy operation and no additional adjustment required when in use.

Applied Machinery is proud to be an Australian sales and service partner for Greenmax Recycling, Daniel adds, with the added value of Greenmax’s parent company Intco Recycling’s buy-back offer.

“Intco Recycling can buy the densified polystyrene for their local manufacturing, which Applied can facilitate for local customers, creating a further efficiency and economic benefit,” he says.

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