The real cost of recycling foam plastic

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At Sedona Recycles, we know that there are inherent expenses to what we do. Every day we provide services that go well beyond what other recycling companies offer. Sometimes these costs are difficult to calculate because there are so many steps to collecting and processing recyclables. There is one service, however, that we knew we could track to determine the true cost of what has become a very popular program.


We at Sedona Recycles always knew there was a very real need for expanded polystyrene (EPS) recycling. EPS, often referred to as Styrofoam, is everywhere, and comprises a huge chunk of what is buried in landfills everyday. It comes with nearly every appliance, electronic device, or piece of furniture you buy.


Because it is mostly air, EPS is bulky and does not break down easily, so a special machine called a densifier is needed to break up the material and compact it into logs for shipping to recycling facilities. The products manufactured using recycled EPS include picture frames, crown molding, and CD cases.


In 2012, Sedona Recycles received funding from the Sedona Community Foundation and the City of Sedona to purchase a densifier and begin the collection and processing of EPS blocks and sheets. We now accept and process EPS seven days a week for several hours each day. To put it bluntly, we get a lot of EPS.


Since we began planning to accept EPS, we always knew that the cost of processing would be greater than the money received for the finished product. But we had no idea how wide that gap really was until now. For the past month, we tracked exactly how much time our staff spends processing EPS and preparing one pallet of EPS logs for shipping. It took one month to prepare one pallet.


  • The finished pallet of EPS logs, minus the weight of the pallet itself, weighed 837 pounds.
  • The number of hours that staff ran the densifier and processed the EPS was 59.75 hours. The gross payroll for this processing came to $893.25. This did not include payroll taxes, insurance, or any of the other associated costs.
  • We will sell this pallet of EPS for $167.40, based on the current price of $400 per ton.
  • Processing one pallet of EPS resulted in a net loss of $725.85.


Even our own staff is asking the question, “Why in the world are we doing this?” The answer is simple, but may be hard for people to understand. We accept EPS because it is the right thing to do. It may not be the smartest financially speaking, but sometimes we have to do things because no one else will.


Ideally, the producers of EPS packaging would take the responsibility for its disposal and recycling. It is estimated that EPS occupies up to 30% of all landfill space worldwide. It seems almost criminal not to recover and recycle a material that is taking up so much space in our landfills.


Why don’t the manufacturers pay for the processing of EPS? Because no one makes them pay for it. Just like all products in the United States, the manufacturers make money producing materials with no end-of-life plan, and those of us that process it get stuck with the bill.


This is where you come in. Sedona Recycles is a nonprofit organization; we are not your run of the mill trash hauler or curbside recycler. We depend on the public’s understanding that we need help funding the services that we provide. Sedona Recycles relies on public donations and memberships to fund special programs such as EPS recycling. We can only continue this important work if people understand the true cost of really recycling; that is, doing the whole job, not just the parts that make money.


If you utilize our recycling center or drop-off sites, please keep in mind that we count on you to help keep those services available to the community. Please consider becoming a member or making a donation at our facility or on our website,, because every little bit helps. We have been serving Sedona and the Verde Valley for 26 years and we hope to be around for a long time to come. With your support we will be.


by Jill McCutcheon, Sedona Recycles

Sedona Red Rock News

June 17, 2015