This innovative plant proves that polystyrene isn’t impossible to recycle after all

Did you know that styrene naturally occurs in foods like strawberries and cinnamon? It’s only when it’s combined with other chemicals to create packaging and foam insulation to protect fragile items in transit does it become polystyrene — that white, staticky, and virtually impossible-to-recycle material that we are all familiar with.

Polystyrene foam is 98 percent air, so it’s not cost-effective to store or ship. Fortunately, there’s a new recycling plant in Terneuzen, the Netherlands that has been built specifically to solve this issue and demonstrate that there is a way to effectively recycle expanded polystyrene waste (EPS) in a large-scale, closed-loop system.

The PolyStyreneLoop plant will start by recycling EPS foam insulation using a process based on a technology that transforms it into a new high-quality raw material. Any kind of contaminant, such as cement or glue residue, will be extracted while the bromine present in the polystyrene is recovered.

Lein Tange, co-director of PolyStyreneLoop, says, “The purpose of this plant is to pave the way for the construction of similar EPS recycling plants in the rest of Europe.”

This new EPS recycling plant has the capacity to recycle 3,300 metric tons of polystyrene foam demolition waste from the Netherlands, Germany, and other surrounding countries. Its success proves that polystyrene foams don’t have to sit in landfills, but can, in fact, be fully integrated into the circular economy.

As an added bonus, the plant only uses renewable wind energy to power its necessary machinery.

For now, since the PSLoop plant is still in its early days, it will focus on recycling EPS building and construction waste. Later on, it plans on recycling extruded polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), which is used to make disposable cups, plates, and packaging.

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