Foam Recycling Coalition

In 2014, the Foam Recycling Coalition (FRC) was launched to support increased recycling of foodservice packaging made from foam polystyrene. In order to meet this objective, the FRC shares general information on foam recycling, provides technical resources and offers funding assistance to programs ready to start or strengthen post-consumer foam recycling.

In addition to encouraging the recycling of foam foodservice packaging (i.e. cups, plates, bowls, clamshells and cafeteria trays), the efforts of the FRC also extend to other foam food packaging like egg cartons and meat trays.


The Basics of Foam Recycling 
The process to recycle foam is similar to that of other recyclables. In the case of foam products, a special compactor – called a “densifier” – may be used in the processing of the material. Why? Foam products are over 90% air, so densifying it allows the material to be sold and transported more cost-effectively. To give you an example, a 48-foot truckload of baled foam polystyrene weighs only around 16,000 pounds, whereas a truckload of densified foam polystyrene weighs 40,000 pounds.

Here’s a brief overview of the process to recycle foam:











Details on Foam Recycling Equipment 

As described above, certain equipment is needed to recycle foam cost-effectively. The densifier is perhaps the most critical piece of equipment.

When selecting a densifier, keep in mind that municipal recycling streams vary, as do foam types. Foam polystyrene can have different density, thickness and levels of rigidity, all which impact the effectiveness of the equipment. In a MRF environment, a hydraulic densifier may be a better option, since it can handle foam polystyrene with mixed densities, whereas a screw drive densifier should work well in a location with a more uniform feedstock, like a cafeteria. As with all new equipment purchases, it is highly recommended that you run a trial prior to purchasing any equipment.

Here’s a brief description of the four basic types of foam densifiers currently in the marketplace, as well as companies that manufacture this equipment:

  • Hydraulic densifiers use hydraulic pressure to compact the foam. With a continuous operation model, the foam is extruded into a dense log. They can effectively process various densities of foam at the same time without melting in the machine.
  • Screw drive densifiers use augers to push foam through a chamber at a specific speed and pressure to densify the foam into a solid log or block. They perform best when the feed stock is limited to one density of foam at a time. Some companies, however, have made advances that allow their screw drive densifiers to also process mixed densities of foam.
  • Hybrid densifiers combine the best features of the screw drive densifier system with those of the hydraulic densifier system, resulting in an efficient way to process recycled foam. Hybrid cold compaction densifiers use augers and hydraulics to compact foam with no melting.
  • Thermal densifiers use heat to melt foam into a taffy-like state. The foam is extruded in the form of a rope and then transferred to containers. Thermal densifiers can effectively process various densities of foam.

Please note that inclusion of these vendors does not indicate an endorsement of these companies by FPI and/or the FRC, simply an acknowledgement that they sell densifiers. In addition, this list may not be complete. If you sell polystyrene foam densifiers and would like your company to be listed here, please send your request to Natha Dempsey.

In addition to a densifier, a grinder will be needed, as well as conveying systems and electrical installations, to recycle foam. A list of additional equipment manufacturers may be found in the report “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery,” published by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association.

A typical layout of a MRF processing foam polystyrene can be seen in the drawing below:


By | 2017-12-20T09:04:13+00:00 December 18th, 2017|Recycling, Resources|