A new Edmonton company hopes to squish St. Albert’s Styrofoam recycling problems down to size.
St. Albert’s Don Fink contacted the Gazette this month to talk about Styro Re Cycle – a new expanded polystyrene (AKA Styrofoam) recycling company he cofounded in Edmonton that started operations this month.
Fink and his Strathcona County business partner Leighton Larson said they believed their company was one of two in Alberta that collected and processed Styrofoam for recycling. (The other was Calgary-based Styro-Go, which handles St. Albert’s Styrofoam waste.)
Larson said he got the idea for this company through his job at Edmonton’s SI Construction Systems, which carves products out of phone-booth-sized chunks of Styrofoam. They used to recycle their leftovers through Styro-Go, but that company recently shifted its focus to high-end Styrofoam from municipal customers, leaving them without a recycler.
Larson saw an opportunity and Fink knew someone with the right equipment, so they teamed up to form Styro Re Cycle last fall. They only started recycling Styrofoam this month, though – their equipment was made in China, and it didn’t arrive until early July because of the pandemic.
Shred, squish, profit
Styrofoam is a valuable material because it’s light and provides excellent insulation, Larson said. It’s also extremely common in the construction and shipping industries, found in insulation, packaging and many other products.
Styrofoam should be easy to recycle – unlike most consumer goods, it’s a solid chunk of one material – but the air in it makes it impractically bulky to ship. The result is that virtually all of North America’s Styrofoam waste ends up either in the landfill or the water, Larson said.
“Everyone feels horrible about putting Styrofoam in the garbage,” Larson said, and will recycle it if they have the option. Recycling not only produces a valuable product, but also reduces petrochemical use and saves space in the landfill.
Larson and Fink’s solution was to use a compactor to make Styrofoam small enough to ship economically.
Customers drop sacks of Styrofoam off at the SI Construction office in Edmonton. Once Larson and Fink sort the chunks by colour, they toss them into a hopper where whirring gears shred them into puffy white beads. An auger crushes the beads into a steel box and compresses them to about 1/40th their original volume – enough to turn a slab the size of a phone booth into a rock-hard chunk the size of a coffee can. Those chunks get sold to manufacturers for use in picture frames, car parts and other items.
Fink and Larson said they plan to process and sell all types of Styrofoam – even food-related material, although that would have to be landfilled, as they couldn’t clean it enough to safely ship it. (It would still take up less room in the dump due to the compaction, Larson noted.)
“Anything Edmonton and area and further out still, we’re going to be able to handle,” Fink said.
SI Construction president Mark Cunningham said he partnered with Fink and Larson on this project to help manage his company’s Styrofoam waste. He’s now saving about $300 per truckload of waste and has more space in his warehouse, as he could recycle waste as needed instead of having it pile up until he has a truck’s worth.
“It’s easy, it saves you money, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said of recycling.
Fink and Larson said they hope to buy more compactors as they partner with Edmonton-area businesses and communities to grow their business.
Fink said it felt great to know that he is helping to address a real-world waste problem.
“We can honestly sleep well at night knowing we’re doing it right.”
VIsit styrorecycle1.wixsite.com/styrorecycle for questions on Styro Re Cycle.