One Elgin businessman trying to save Mother Nature one trash can at a time. The problem, he says is that America is not recycling foam products the way it should.
So he's taken matters into his own hands – and he’s getting a little help.
Kenneth Santowski feels some urgency to get the foam ball rolling because he believes it takes hundreds of years to biodegrade foam cups and containers in your average landfill.
While container companies may take issue with that number - they all agree, it's time to take the recycling of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam, more seriously.
In 2013, the EPS Recycling Rate Report shows 34% of polystyrene was recycled. But the EPA, in the same year, showed just 1.3% was recycled.
While that debate continues, the subject continues to motivate Santowski and his business partner at Chicago Logistic Service to fire up their trucks, haul and sort the stuff themselves so it doesn't end up in a landfill. Landfills that are projected to be filled to the brim in northern Illinois in less than 20 years.
"In the last 10 years, we've spent over $100,000 out of our pockets to help with the recycling efforts because no one seems to care enough about the things that don't make money,” Santowski says.
Santowski cares, but he couldn't keep up with the process to recycle trash's illegitimate stepsister Styrofoam. It has so little support. So in July, his side business of collecting, hauling and sorting other people's Styrofoam garbage stopped. He couldn't afford to do it on his own.
Since then, Dart Container, the largest maker of foam cups and containers has partnered with Santowski.
Santowski just wants to see the polystyrene dumped in the right place for recycling. He gets it - foam is never going away and calls it a “necessary evil.”
So he collects and holds the foam products on his business property in Elgin until Dart sends in the big rigs to store it and later haul it away.
But that can take time. Loads are light and must weigh 40,000 pounds before heading to the recycling plant. That's one reason everyday haulers aren't interested in recycling it. They can't make any money.
But Dart has just opened a new recycling plant in Indianapolis that could be changing the way foam is repurposed.
The trash is cleaned, sorted, then heated up and minimized down into these plastic pellets. Companies like Rubbermaid and 3M are paying a decent dollar for it so they can make new products out of the old materials.
Revolutionary in recycling, perhaps but if the infrastructure to get the garbage there doesn't exist around much of the country, what good is it?
Santowski hopes his efforts closer to home will help put polystyrene in its place one cup at a time.
"I would like people to whenever and wherever to try to not use the Styrofoam, but if you have no choice make sure you at least recycle it,” he says.
Santowski along with the Dart container company wants to create a foam recycling program that can be imitated anywhere in the U.S.
One downside to all this is curbside collection is still not a reality.
- Environmental Defenders’ fundraising site for Cloud based Styrofoam
- Recycling Foam Polystyrene: An interactive map to find a foam polystyrene recycling collection program near you.
- Foam recycling grants for your community
- EPS Industry Alliance