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Confession: I Love Polystyrene Plastic … and Here’s Why

Richard-Shaw---I-Love-PS-watermelon

Richard Shaw

Director of Circular Economy & Sustainability

I thought I knew about polystyrene, coming to AmSty in April after a three-decade career in the paper and packaging industry. But what I thought I knew didn't even scratch the surface.

Having spent the last six months immersing myself in Amsty, a company leading the way in circular recycling of polystyrene, I've quickly come to realize that the material is nothing short of amazing.

While this list is just the tip of the iceberg, polystyrene enhances our lives in many ways:

  • Food Safety: That lining in your refrigerator is made of polystyrene, helping to keep your food at proper temperatures. It's in your restaurant take-home containers and the coolers you use to transport food and beverages.
  • Consumer Safety and Health: The cushion layer in a bike helmet is made from polystyrene. It's critical in the field of medicine, too. Polystyrene has been vital in the war on COVID-19, from the petri dishes and test tubes used to study the virus, to syringes delivering life-saving vaccines. And when blood supplies and donor organs are transported, there's a good chance polystyrene is keeping the precious cargo cool and protected from the elements.
  • Energy Efficiency: With the high cost of energy today, we can count on polystyrene in the insulation panels around our homes and businesses to keep us comfortable and minimize monthly bills.
  • Lower Carbon Footprint: What you might find most surprising is that, in many cases, plastic is a more favorable option when compared to alternative products. A new McKenzie report shows that plastics in general "have lower total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than alternatives in most applications," ranging from 10% to 90%, and have lower GHG emissions in 13 of 14 comparisons to alternatives including paper, aluminum, glass, steel, wood and wool. For polystyrene specifically, the report says that virgin polystyrene meat trays have 35% less GHG emissions than butcher paper. That's impressive. And the carbon favorability of recycled polystyrene is off-the-charts fantastic.

The best part? Polystyrene is now continuously recyclable. AmSty is an innovator, creating the first circular recycling technology to keep polystyrene off the land and out of the landfills. We do this by recycling polystyrene products back to their original quality and durability so they can be used over and over again – much like aluminum can recycling.

Our long-term vision at AmSty is that polystyrene products should never be landfilled, but reclaimed, recycled and reused again and again.

Moving Forward

The above list of benefits is long, but that's not to say polystyrene is without its challenges.

The litter and landfill waste problem is real, but that's where circular recycling comes in. AmSty is leading the way, recycling polystyrene each year at Regenyx, a joint venture between AmSty and Agilyx. We've also forged key partnerships and are collaborating with others in the industry to move the technology forward and make circular recycling just as commonplace as the recycling of aluminum and paper. In the near future, we'll be purchasing circular feedstocks from Encina that can be converted and used by companies in products to help meet their important sustainability goals.

It's going to take continued work with state and national governments to support legislative frameworks, as well as extended producer responsibility (EPR) where the plastics industry takes ownership to initially fund the infrastructure needed for collection and recycling.

AmSty is early in the journey, but we'll get there as we work with both a sense of urgency and excitement. We will not let up as we continue to make progress toward establishing a circular economy for a material that makes our lives better and, with infinite recycling, protects our planet, too. 

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