News | May 18, 1999

New Recycling Process Uses Limonene to Dissolve Polystyrene

One common approach to disposal is compaction to reduce the amount of space required to store and landfill waste. People cut up boxes, break bottles, and step on cans. This approach does not work with expanded polystyrene (EPS), because EPS cups, trays, and packaging materials are largely air. Try to compact them and they simply spring back to shape.

A solution to the EPS problem may come from International Foam Solutions, Inc. (IFOS, Delray Beach, FL). It has not only found an environmentally friendly way to reduce EPS volume, but is able to recycle the plastic as well. It has developed a mailbox-sized system that shreds EPS, debulks it with a solvent based on d-limonene (a terpene found in citrus peels), and winds up with a recyclable with only 10% of the mass of the original EPS.

About as large as a mailbox, the International Foam Solutions SM1100 self-serve cafeteria model shreds and dissolves expanded polystyrene waste, reducing its volume by as much as 90%.

Both the solvent and resulting gel are inert and safe enough to store in plastic bags. IFOS sells customers its Solution recycling machine and Styro Solve citrus solution. It then pays to truck the gel to a plant that will recycle it into products that range from paper clip dispensers to packaging materials.

The system's economic advantage resides in its ability to reduce EPS waste volume. This lets users to reduce the size or number of dumpsters they use, as well as the volume of EPS they landfill. While not an issue everywhere, it makes economic sense in urban, densely populated states, such as California, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, where landfill costs are high.

The company has already placed units with some early users. ARCO Alaska, a subsidiary of Atlantic Richfield Co. (Los Angeles, CA) recently reordered the company's Styro Solve System. ARCO operates two industrial-strength units at the cafeterias that serve its Prudhoe Bay drilling and pipeline operations. The IFOS system reduces the waste volume ARCO generates in this environmentally sensitive region. ARCO ships the resulting polygel from the Arctic Circle location to Washington State, where IFOS takes possession and trucks it onto Florida.

IFOS has also installed a unit in the administration building of DuPage County, the second-largest county in Illinois. The unit is part of a pilot program to reduce waste volume in the region. IFOS also says it has a $15 million international contract base through its Japanese strategic partnership.

According to company president Claudia Iovino, who holds the patent for the technology (US 5,223,543, Reduction in polystyrene with activated agent), all the solvents used to break down EPS are safe and biodegradable. The product was discovered when Iovino noticed that a citrus-based dumpster deodorizer broke down EPS cups. The chemistry affects both EPS and conventional polystyrene, but not other polymers.

Everything takes place in the company's Solution machines. These come in two sizes (one for small cafeterias and schools, the other for large industrial users). The EPS does not require thorough cleaning before processing. Once tossed in the Solution machine, the unit shreds the EPS to cut through any coatings and speed dissolution. It then sprays the waste with d-limonene solution, which rapidly breaks down EPS cells.

The resulting polygel looks like jello and contains impurities. IFOS thins down the polygel by adding more solvent and filters out the food scraps and impurities. It then separates the solvent from the polystyrene, though Iovino will not comment on how the company does that until all patents have been issued.

IFOS does not currently operate a recycling plant because it has not generated enough waste to operate one efficiently. Instead, it currently stores polygel until it can get an operating unit up and running.

Iovino says distributors sell the small Solution machines for about $5,000. An average school might use 5 gal of Styro Solve solution per week. IFOS sells the solution to schools for $99/5-gal container. "Depending on what area of the country you're from, that's a lot less costly than storing and landfilling waste."

For more information: Claudia Iovino, President, International Foam Solutions, Inc., PO Box 218, 430 Commerce Dr., Delray Beach, FL 33447-0218. Phone: 561-272-6900. Fax: 561-272-4951.

By Alan S. Brown