First processed styrofoam shipped

Ever wonder what happens to all that Styrofoam that gets dropped off at Grey Bears recycling center? Thanks to a Community Foundation Santa Cruz County grant, Grey Bears received a RecycleTech 200 thermal densifier that turns this almost lighter than air packaging material into a reusable manufacturing stock.

At the Grey Bears Chanticleer recycling facility, staff and volunteers remove tape and clean off collected EPS and feed it through the densifier. The machine uses heat to break down the EPS cellular structure and releases air. The foam melts into a rigid taffy-like substance and maintains its shape for a more efficient, cost effective way to transport. Grey Bears receives EPS from public drop-offs along with other recyclables, UCSC, local businesses and other local large-scale producers.

This week Grey Bears reached a milestone by shipping 20,184 pounds of densified Styrofoam that will be transformed into myriad downstream products, including picture frames, furniture, electrical components, CD jewel cases, carpets, crown molding, surfboards, and in building and construction applications such as insulation boards, synthetic lumber and glue.

Expanded Polystyrene Scrap (EPS) is made up of 98 percent air and 2 percent plastic. It is a threat to our ocean, environment and communities. Just like all other types of plastic, EPS does not biodegrade and, because of its lightweight nature, can easily travel through gutters, storm drains or in the wind and reach the ocean. In the marine environment, EPS breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife, and enter the food chain that we depend on.

Santa Cruz County and the Cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola expanded their bans in 2012 to prohibit retail sales of foam products such as plates, cups, bowls, packing peanuts and coolers. In 2017, the City of Santa Cruz passed an ordinance requiring food service businesses to only use to-go food service items that are biodegradable, compostable or recyclable.

However, because EPS is formable and lightweight, it enters the County in large quantities via packaging for electronics, appliances, medicines, immunizations and other shipped products. Without recycling/reuse efforts, EPS is among the longest lasting petroleum-plastic based products in landfills with an estimated life span of at least 500 years. It can be recycled up to 20 times without significant loss of its inherent properties and beneficial qualities.