UNCW now offers Styrofoam recycling services for the public

Updated: Jun. 21, 2019 at 6:31 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - You can now drop off your Styrofoam packing material on UNCW’s campus for it to be recycled.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is commonly known as “Styrofoam" which is actually the trade name for the foam-like product. We typically see it in the form on to-go food containers, coffee cups, and packing materials. The main building block of EPS is a synthetic chemical called styrene. When EPS deteriorates, styrene can leak and contaminate the environment.

According to Mother Nature Network, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups a year. It can take 500, or more, years to decompose. The technology to recycle Styrofoam does exist, but the problem is the lack of demand for recycle EPS. EPS material can’t be turned back into cups or boxes like regular plastic or other recyclables.

UNCW has found a way to turn the Styrofoam into recyclable material. They have a new Styrofoam densifier; the only one of its kind in New Hanover County.

“It’s actually a brand-new program," says Pete Bloodworth, the manager of UNCW Warehouse Services. "It’s the brainchild of one of the students that was working with Kat and sustainability. We were sitting down and we were discussing different items that we haven’t captured yet as far as recycling is concerned and he asked about Styrofoam.”

The program started in February so there are a few more details that need to be ironed out. But for now, anyone can bring their Styrofoam to the university to be properly disposed by the densifier.

“Basically, [the densifier] just take Styrofoam, it grinds it up, heats it up, and turns it into an ooze," says Bloodworth. “That ooze hardens and that’s the finished product.”

This is what the Styrofoam looks like once it comes out of the densifier. (source: WECT)
This is what the Styrofoam looks like once it comes out of the densifier. (source: WECT)

Right now, Warehouse Service asks that you only bring packing material and stay away from the cups and food boxes. Anything with food shouldn’t be dropped off.

“Right now, the machine that we’re using will only take certain types and it has to be clean and white," says Bloodworth. “So currently, we aren’t taking anything that’s colored or any food containers.”

You can drop off the Styrofoam at the Central Receiving Warehouse located at 5179 Lionfish Drive on UNCW’s Campus from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information about UNCW’s recycling services, visit their website.

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