Effort underway to get styrofoam out of Triad landfills, turn it into something useful


Researchers say it takes 500 years for styrofoam to decompose. That means your shipping packaging, egg cartons, and food containers can take up a lot of landfill space. That’s why several Piedmont nonprofits are coming together to get the foam out of our landfills and turn it into something useful. They are calling their effort Foam Recycling Greensboro.

Once a week volunteers like Nancy Abrams drive across Greensboro to pick up styrofoam from medical offices and florist. Her SUV is loaded from the roof to the rear cargo hold. Styrofoam, big and small, is unloaded and stored inside of the Tiny House Community Development warehouse. When you add up the styrofoam from other volunteers, the foam nearly touches the ceiling.

“And then a week goes by and it fills up just like this again,” said Abrams.

Getting to this point was not easy for Foam Recycling Greensboro. When volunteers wanted to reduce the amount of styrofoam going into the landfill, David Gilbert said they had to take it to a recycling center in Randolph County.

“You have to question whether the amount of fuel needed to go there really ended up helping the environment we wanted it to,” said Gilbert.

Nonprofits like Environmental Stewardship Greensboro, Emerging Ecology, and Greensboro Beautiful, raised money to buy a densifier. With a machine now in Greensboro, Foam Recycling Greensboro no longer had to burn fuel by driving to Randolph County. Once a week volunteers break down large styrofoam cases and feed a mountain of foam into the densifier. The device pulls out all of the air in styrofoam and leaves behind plastic.

“This is just more than finding a way of disposing it, but in fact completely recycling it for reuse and repurpose,” said Gilbert.

The plastic is then shipped to a plant where it is repurposed. The material can be transformed into a picture frame or molding for your home. There’s not a lot of money to be made in recycling, instead Abrams is focused on protecting the environment and freeing landfill space.

“I think it’s great. I love it. All of that is not in the landfill,” said Abrams.

Abrams believes Foam Recycling Greensboro could be the only volunteer-run styrofoam operation in the United States. If the effort becomes successful, perhaps one day the city will oversee the program.

“At some point, it becomes appropriate for the municipalities to take it on for more collection sites to be set up,” said Gilbert.

Until that time, you can drop off your clean styrofoam food containers, egg cartons, cups, and shipping packaging at 1310 W. Gate City Blvd. in Greensboro. The collection bins are located behind the building.

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