Styrofoam recycling pilot program underway in Northeast Kingdom

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 5:46 PM EDT
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LYNDONVILLE, Vt. (WCAX) - Recycling in the Northeast Kingdom is evolving. In addition to traditional items, residents in one waste district can now drop off styrofoam, too.

Historically, styrofoam has always gone in the trash. But a new machine on trial in Lyndonville could save room in the landfill, and customers a couple of bucks on disposal costs.

The newest addition to the Lyndonville Recycling Center has quite the appetite for expanded polystyrene foam. Made up mostly of air, styrofoam has always been sent to the landfill.

“This machine heats the material up to 150 degrees Celsius, which allows us to extract the air into a dense ingot,” said Shannon Choquette with the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District. She says the issue with recycling styrofoam has always been inefficiency when it comes to transportation. “We all know when we receive a new appliance, you end up with a lot of styrofoam. And so we may not have it every day, but when we do have it, we have it in big amounts.”

A 50-pound block is made up of four containers full of styrofoam and is much easier to transport than the original form. From there, it can either be sent to New Jersey, where it’s made into trim for houses. A plant in Sherbrooke, Quebec, can also turn it into insulation board.

“Theoretically, it is an endless loop of us recycling this foam and then people being able to recycle that insulation board made at the same facility,” Choquette said.

With only one landfill in Vermont, the technique could be key in keeping that additional bulky waste out of the pile, and out of our environment. “Styrofoam -- and plastic in general -- is found to be increasingly in our soils, in our water. We’re now finding it in our body and our blood. So, we think it’s very important to keep this material out of our environment, out of our landfill, and turn it into something that can be used,” Choquette said.

The machine is the first of its kind in Vermont and is on trial for the next six months for free. Anyone from the 49 towns served by the district can come drop off their number six styrofoam -- which is generally easy to break.

Choquette says the Kingdom is a great testing spot for this technology because the population is small and residents already have to bring their recycling here and sort it. By keeping it out of household trash, that could mean cost savings for waste customers. “Even if there might not be that much styrofoam out there -- that’s still yet to be seen -- we still know that will help our communities decrease their disposal costs,” Choquette said.

If all goes well, the waste management district intends to buy the machine. The price tag is about $50,000, but they are hoping to get EPA grants to cover it.

As of right now, Foamcycle is only at the Lyndonville Recycling Center, but if all goes well the plan is to expand it to other areas.

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