The Real Reason No One’s Recycling Styrofoam — and How One Company Is Changing That

The Real Reason No One’s Recycling Styrofoam — and How One Company Is Changing That

Styrofoam is recyclable, but there’s a reason that the process is not more commonplace.

“You just can’t make money out of it,” says Robert Herritt, president of Styro-Go. “That’s why nobody does it.”

Typically, those undertaking Styrofoam recycling have done so by operating at a loss. This strategy may work in the short term for not-for-profit organizations like municipal recycling facilities, but getting businesses on board has always been a hard sell.

Herritt began to try to redesign the recycling process, filing a handful of patents to protect his inventions and then beginning to court the big Styrofoam producers to get them to buy in.

“We had to think out of the box, and it could only work at scale,” Herritt says. “The volume was out there; the trick was how to make companies buy in. We had to make recycling Styrofoam the same price as putting it in the garbage, if not cheaper — then they wouldn’t have any excuse not to do it.”

Getting big companies to participate has been key to Styro-Go’s success, not only for their own business model but also for the impact they make environmentally.

One big-box appliance store chain they approached conducted an audit of their waste stream and discovered that in each and every store, Styrofoam made up between 60 to 80 percent of their total waste output. That’s the equivalent of a 53-foot transport truck filled with Styrofoam from each store heading to the landfill each week.

With Styro-Go, however, the process is not only comparable to sending that material to the landfill, it’s also far more convenient. They have a truck with a built-in Styrofoam compactor housed inside of it, and that one truck can process and transport the equivalent of eight 53-foot tractor-trailers.

The truck picks up the Styrofoam from participating facilities and processes it right on-site. The processed Styrofoam is then repurposed into dozens of other applications.

So far, the idea has been catching on. Lowe’s was one of the first major retailers to get on board and sign a national agreement, and even they have been surprised with how successful the project has been.

“They thought they’d do five to six bags a month,” says Herritt with a laugh. “But the average store does 12 to 14 bags a week, with each bag being 2.5 cubic yards.”

The Canadian company is based in Calgary, Alberta, but is looking to expand into British Columbia and Saskatchewan, as well as the eastern provinces.

The innovation and forward-thinking energy of Herritt and Styro-Go have managed to underscore the fact that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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