Start a Foam #6 Recycling Program
Cities with foam #6 recycling programs generate recycling revenue, reduce landfill waste and associated fees, and offer a valuable service to citizens. There is a market for post-consumer and post-industrial foam, which often brings more money per pound than cardboard and other recycling commodities.
To start a successful foam #6 foam recycling program, many cities take advantage of their existing single stream curbside collection infrastructure. The foam #6 products are collected commingled with other recyclable materials at the curb and delivered to a material recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted and densified. Another collection option is drop-off locations. The foam collected at drop-off sites is typically higher quality: it is already sorted, usually clean and ready for processing. This foam commands a higher price than foam collected at the curbside, although drop-off collection programs are less convenient for the public and, as a result, capture less material.
Setting Up a Foam #6 Drop-off Location
Drop-off locations can have attended or unattended collection bins. For unattended collection, the collection area should house two bins: one for post-consumer food service containers and another for packaging foam to prevent contamination by food residue. The collection area should also have barriers to prevent loose foam from blowing out and becoming litter. Because wet foam is harder to process, lids should be used on all outdoor collection or storage bins.
Foam products collected at drop-off locations should be sealed in clear plastic bags to prevent contamination by soiled materials and make it easier to monitor contamination within each bag. Food service containers and packaging foam should be placed in separate bags. To reduce processing costs, the foam should be free from contaminants including food residue, labels, packaging tape, straws and lids.
- Choose a location in a highly visible area to minimize illegal dumping.
- Reference your local building codes prior to designing your collection center.
- Include signage that informs residents of your recycling guidelines.
- Use Home for Foam’s free collateral to educate the community on what types of products are accepted and how to recycle.
Densification and Transportation
Whether the foam is collected at curbside or a drop-off site, it will need to be compacted. This process makes transportation efficient and is critical for a successful program. A 48-foot truckload can hold 1,000 pounds of loose foam, compared to 40,000 pounds of densified foam.
Whereas a 48-foot truckload of loose foam weighs only around 1,000 pounds, a truckload of densified foam weighs 40,000 pounds. At a value of $0.20 per pound, each truckload of densified foam can bring $8,000 in revenue.
Since foam is less than 1% of the waste stream, some MRFs find that additional labor is not required to perform the initial sorting. Sorting is most successful if it is done before the screens. Once sorted, the foam needs to be delivered to the grinder. This can be done mechanically or manually. If foam is sorted mechanically, there should be a quality control check to remove contaminants that could damage the grinding or densifying equipment. Once ground, the foam can be blown by air to a densifier. Depending on the equipment chosen, this process can be largely automated. Labor is only required to pick up and palletize the densified material.
An efficient grinder and densification system can require as little as 85 square feet of space. In locations where space is limited, grinders can be housed separately from the densifiers. In these implementations, blowers are used to transport the ground up foam through a tube to a hopper, which can be located as far as 100 feet away from the grinder.
Densifiers that will process 500 pounds of loose foam per hour are available at a cost of around $42,000.
Some government agencies offer low-interest loans or grants to help pay for recycling equipment. For instance, CalRecycle in California offers low interest loans to businesses located in recycled material development zones (RMDZ) that are engaged in recycling activities. In addition, some processors will lease recycling equipment and accept densified foam as a form of payment. Cities earn cash for the densified materials once the debt has been paid off.
Depending on the location, permits may be required to operate recycling equipment. Local public works departments can provide guidance on permits.
The compacted foam is stored until enough is gathered to fill a truckload. Buyers of foam typically accept truckload quantities of 35,000 to 40,000 pounds of densified material. Use our site to find a buyer for post-consumer and post-industrial foam.
Public education is essential to the success of any recycling program. A promotion and education strategy could include announcements at city meetings and events, ads in local newspapers and radio, facility tours and announcements on city websites. Many cities provide printed and online recycling guides that show what materials are accepted and describe how to prepare products for recycling. Home for Foam offers free collateral that cities can customize for distribution online or in print.