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Expanding recycling options for styrofoam

A major development affecting the international recycling industry is a gradual shift from plastic products to paper products. ‘This may sound cool in theory. But the reality is we’re talking about unrecyclable products,’ Albert Gornals urged at the recent Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference in Barcelona.

The full article was published in our last issue / Reading time: 2 min.

It is not smart to ‘simply replace all plastics,’ argues Gornals, procurement officer for Traxpo, the Spanish recycler of expanded polystyrene (EPS). The company says it is getting tired of the intense lobby against all things plastic – especially since non-standard plastics such EPS have gotten a particularly bad reputation. ‘This anti-plastics campaign has to cool down,’ Gornals underlines. ‘Small companies may go out of business.’

He emphasises that part of the problem is that legislators are effectively taking on the role of packaging engineers, without the much-needed expertise. ‘They don’t understand that using alternatives for EPS does not automatically reduce waste. In most cases, it merely replaces one type of waste with another. Simply banning EPS is not the solution.’

He claims EPS is 100% recyclable with the right technology and collection schemes in place. ‘Despite what some people might say, both chemical and mechanical recycling processes are available,’ Gornals argues. ‘For instance, we can process it into pellets that can be used as an insulation material. This is a very popular application.’

One of the challenges of handling EPS is that it is part of a mixed waste stream. There is probably 50% more EPS to recover for recycling in Spain.

‘From a material point of view, the tricky thing is that EPS is only 2% plastic and 98% air. Logistics can be difficult due to the low weight,’ Gornals explains. Recycled EPS also travels far, just like more common plastics. ‘A fair share goes to Asia. Previously, China was a main market. Now, our number one export market is Indonesia.’

As well as treating EPS, Gornals says that Traxpo has launched a project to recycle ocean buoys. ‘Just because it’s a niche, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.’

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