County hopes ‘densifier’ helps it sell stockpile of Styrofoam

Dec 28, 2018

A stockpile of Styrofoam two years in the making is starting to be recycled at the Monroe County Ecopark just outside the Rochester city limits.

The county has been collecting clean, white blocks of polystyrene (the generic name for the material that’s trademarked as Styrofoam), waiting for an economically viable way to transport and recycle them.

Stephen Peletz feeds the polystyrene densifier at the Monroe County Ecopark.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

The blocks are 98 percent air, which means putting them in a truck mostly results in just hauling a bunch of air from one place to another.

Now, the county has a densifier. True to its name, it compacts large blocks of polystyrene into dense bricks of the stuff -- 60 times more dense than the original product.

There’s a lot to work through. “It’s a mountain that’s been collecting for quite some time here,” said county solid waste administrator Luann Meyer.

Stephen Peletz, an engineer with Monroe County's environmental services department, stands in front of a "mountain" of stockpiled styrofoam waiting to be densified.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

There’s no buyer for the bricks yet, but Meyer said the county is accepting bids and has had some interest.

“The end product, what they’ll use this material for, is things like picture frames, you know, that composite plastic material,” she said. “The fake wood.”

Blocks of densified styrofoam sit on pallets at the Monroe County Ecopark, waiting for a buyer.
Credit Stephen Peletz / Monroe County Department of Environmental Services

But the densifier is finicky. Stephen Peletz, who operates the machine, has a tool like an archaeologist's chisel to pick apart the bricks. “We’re still sort of figuring out what hangs it up -- what stops it from densifying effectively,” he said.

The machine can only accept clean, white block polystyrene. Don’t think egg cartons or coffee cups, Peletz and Meyer said -- think beer cooler or TV packaging.

The densifier cost $56,000, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in a press release. The Department of Environmental Services is pursuing grant funding to recoup some of that cost, and Dinolfo said at current revenue rates, she expects the county to “realize a return on investment in approximately 15 years.”

The Ecopark is open Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Peletz said he is bracing (but also hoping) for an influx of styrofoam on Saturday, the first day the Ecopark is open after Christmas.

The county says the Ecopark website provides a full list of accepted items and how to drop them off.