Why Calgarians won’t see Styrofoam blue bin recycling despite local innovation’s success
North America’s only mobile-Styrofoam recycling company says business is booming, but not in its home city
Recycled Styrofoam oozes out of a compressor.
It’s part of an innovative fleet of mobile trucks created by Calgary-based Styro-Go, which bills itself as the only mobile-Styrofoam recycling company in North America.
Owner Robert Herritt says his company is picking up contracts with governments and companies across North America — including the B.C. government, City of Toronto, appliance firms and even a national pilot project for Lowe’s Canada — but it’s having trouble convincing the City of Calgary.
“It’s interesting where the demand and acceptance and willingness to engage our service is very high everywhere else except where we live. So it’s one of life’s little ironies I guess,” he said.
Some of the biggest demand is coming from south of the border. Herritt expects his company will go from processing 40 tonnes a month to possibly more than 250 tonnes this September. He says that’s the equivalent of 27 school buses not going to the landfill, rising to 150 buses by September.
“This is a product that actually can be recycled, and should be recycled,” he said. “So there is a greater acceptance on the public side to participate in recycling programs both from residential but also commercial and industrial players.”
Herritt says it’s become popular to be green, especially for big companies.
“That’s just one more check mark they can tell the public, or their customers, that they recycle all things including Styrofoam,” he said.
Styro-Go has patents on their innovative trucks, which are made in Lethbridge. The company has been in operation for the last two years, but was intentionally flying under the radar as they get set up, and is “really starting to hit their stride.” Herritt says they’ve had to turn down requests because every mobile truck they own is fully booked.
It all started when Herritt noticed bins of Styrofoam, used for home insulation, being thrown out by construction companies.
But Herritt said the challenge was to make it economically feasible. The mobile fleet allows for that, with a compressor inside, condensing a trailer load of Styrofoam down to the size of a fridge in easy cubes for transport.
“To win companies over we had to almost be comparable to regular waste management [on the pricing side],” said Herritt.
“By recycling their Styrofoam they’ve seen their garbage bills go down because Styrofoam actually takes up quite a bit of volume.”
Blue bin problems
So why doesn’t the City of Calgary jump on board? The answer is cost.
The city says recycling Styrofoam is expensive, and only accounts for one per cent of materials heading to the landfill. It causes other problems too.
“We do not accept No. 6 foam, so please don’t put these in the blue carts because it will break into small pieces and contaminate the other recyclables,” said Calgary’s recycling spokesperson Sharon Howland.
But that hasn’t stopped it from showing up in blue bin pickup. Howland says Calgary accepts plastic containers with recycling number one to seven, but not foam even if it has a recycling number six on it.
“It creates a bit of confusion,” she said, adding the city has a website to check products if there are any doubts about what goes in a blue bin.
Howland says the city would prefer the product not be used at all, but says people should vote with their money and not support businesses that use Styrofoam instead of something that is recyclable or compostable.
She says it needs a separate pickup system, and would like to see a new funding model from the province — or what’s called an extended producer responsibility program.
“What that does is put the financial responsibility for recycling programs onto the manufacturers of products, then they have to pay for the infrastructure to put in a drop-off depot model,” said Howland.
“In B.C. we see that, they have depots across the province where they accept this type of material, but that’s because it is funded by the producers of the product.”