Circular Recycling: Making “Used” New Again
When I joined AmSty in 2012, I came from an industry that was experiencing rapid change. I worked for a company that produced media packaging, and with the adoption of digital entertainment, these disc and cartridge-based products became obsolete nearly overnight. That experience left me with the perspective that paying attention to shifting demands and having a willingness to embrace new technology can drive positive change and create competitive advantage.
Stepping into my new role at AmSty, I quickly saw an inherent challenge for the product we produce: polystyrene. Though I had seen a tremendous amount of innovation, creativity, and progress on many fronts in polystyrene, recycling wasn't advancing. Even though polystyrene was in many ways the most recyclable type of plastic, traditional recycling methods weren't acceptable for polystyrene food packaging, stymieing our efforts. We set out to change that.
At AmSty, our vision is that all polystyrene products, including those for food packaging, should be infinitely recyclable, and they should never end up in a landfill or in the environment.
We committed to this vision and to developing the technology to get us there.
- In 2013 we began combining post-consumer (or used) material into packaging resins at our plant in Connecticut – making new products with recycled material. Using this innovative approach, we have recycled more than 25 million pounds and counting. But constraints on waste quality became a barrier. We needed a process that could use curbside municipal waste and open recycling access for polystyrene nationwide.
- In 2019, we took another major step forward and opened our Regenyx recycling plant in Tigard, Oregon. Regenyx takes used polystyrene from municipal, agricultural, life sciences and industrial sources and converts it back into a liquid. The liquid is purified and used to make new polystyrene with the same quality and durability as the original material, that can then be used in all applications. This is circular recycling, and we believe the future of polystyrene and plastics more broadly. Much like an aluminum can, with this technology, plastic can be reclaimed, broken down and regenerated. To date, Regenyx has converted more than two million pounds of used polystyrene into all-new materials. That's equivalent to keeping more than 50 million foam cups, meat trays or takeout containers out of the landfill.
- In addition, we recently announced expansion plans at facilities in the U.S. that will significantly increase our circular recycling capacity. These projects are in the engineering phase, and our goal is to have these facilities running in 2024.
Today, more than ever, consumers rely on packaging that's not only safe for the environment but that also keeps us safe. Here are just a few of the ways polystyrene plays an important role in our daily lives:
- Polystyrene has played a vital role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It's in trays that were a critical component as the first COVID-19 tests were developed, in the labware used to develop the vaccine, in the coolers that ship the vaccines, and now in many of the syringes that are delivering life-saving vaccinations.
- Polystyrene foodservice packaging is not just a matter of convenience. It's enabling restaurants to serve customers safely – and affordably – in a time when businesses continue to be strained in every way. It is in the critical delivery of poultry and beef protein to the vast majority of Americans who choose to stay home.
- Polystyrene is a critical material used in the production of refrigerators used to store food and medicines, and even in the bike helmets we use to stay healthy and productive.
And compared to other materials and forms of packaging, polystyrene is very often the most sustainable material for its applications when all life cycle impacts are considered. It's inherent qualities of high rigidity, efficient processing, and ability to maintain a sturdy and resilient quality when expanded to almost ninety-five percent air, make it very low in carbon and GHG offsets to alternative materials for the same job.
I'm excited to work for a leading innovator in circular plastics recycling and believe we must raise the bar when it comes to protecting our planet from unnecessary waste of its resources. At AmSty, we're proud to lead the way.