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Poke holes in my styrofoam recycling business idea

 
pollinator
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Why hasn't anyone started a business where they acquire large quantities of post-consumer styrofoam, break it down into little beads/chunks, maybe spray it with a fire retardant or something, and then blow it into stud cavities and attics as insulation?
 
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This is the permies solution to styrofoam:

https://permies.com/t/50485/composting/Mealworms-Eating-Styrofoam
 
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Probably because of
A) The fire issue, it might not be legal under building codes, unsure about treating it, if it can be done.
B: The sheer work of accumulating it, and the mess involved with shredding it. Most companies like things that don't involve dumpster diving and don't make a lot of work.

Personally, I approve, I reuse dumpster styrofoam all the time, I hate seeing it wasted. If they are going to use it, it needs to be reused as many times as possible, in my eyes. And there are definitely other things they could be using, but styrofoam is currently the cheap low hanging fruit.
 
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Styrofoam being broken up sheds a ton of microplastics. Consider the effects of that process and how you will plan to mitigate them.

I only took a short look, but there does not seem to be a lot of options for fire retardant coatings that are rated for styrofoam. I would assume that this would lead to increased costs and then starts bringing down appeal from people looking for a product. It cuts into the cost against R value benefit.
 
Ned Harr
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Anne Miller wrote:This is the permies solution to styrofoam:

https://permies.com/t/50485/composting/Mealworms-Eating-Styrofoam



Feed it to mealworms? That's cool, but is it scalable?

Pearl Sutton wrote:Probably because of
A) The fire issue, it might not be legal under building codes, unsure about treating it, if it can be done.
B: The sheer work of accumulating it, and the mess involved with shredding it. Most companies like things that don't involve dumpster diving and don't make a lot of work.



A - yeah that seems like a legit hurdle. At least that might be the best answer for why it's not currently done.
B - I was thinking it might not be that hard to collect; it involves marketing, and fleets of collection vehicles or else a dedicated depository center. You might even be able to pay people for it by the pound--if I got a couple bucks for dumping a trunkful of it off at a special dumpster somewhere I'd do it once every few weeks. Shredding it, I'm picturing something like a big baling machine, like those ones that compress cardboard boxes in the back room of grocery stories. From there you just vacuum it out and into your trucks or treatment containers.

Timothy Norton wrote:Styrofoam being broken up sheds a ton of microplastics. Consider the effects of that process and how you will plan to mitigate them.



Containment is what I'm thinking...

I only took a short look, but there does not seem to be a lot of options for fire retardant coatings that are rated for styrofoam. I would assume that this would lead to increased costs and then starts bringing down appeal from people looking for a product. It cuts into the cost against R value benefit.



Okay, that's useful to know too.
 
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There's a fellow on the internet who shreds it himself (from the video, one would need top-notch personal protective gear) and then folds it into cement. ( I *think* cement as opposed to cement with other stuff added already.) He makes panels to build building with, along the lines of things like hempcrete. It's been a long time since I watched the video, but I think these were non-weight bearing panels.

With the cement surrounding the pieces of shredded styrofoam, I don't think fire would be much of an issue. Styrofoam is not just very flammable, it's highly toxic when it burns.
 
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Back when I was in college, packing peanuts were a thing. I started a collection on campus to reuse the packing peanuts student were receiving in the things that were shipped to them. As far as large pieces of styrofoam, and reusing it for its intended purpose, I've gotta second the concerns about microplastics/forever chemicals. I mean, it has to go somewhere, and in cement might be a good solution, but...
 
Jay Angler
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Mathew Trotter wrote:Back when I was in college, packing peanuts were a thing. I started a collection on campus to reuse the packing peanuts student were receiving in the things that were shipped to them.

A friend had collected up a huge bag and wondered what to do with it. We had a local potter who had a small shop and I suggested she offer it to her. Problem solved - both parties happy!

For the record, I read on another permies thread that the peanuts make lousy insulation. I suspect the issue is that it let too much air through. I'm glad that alternatives are being used now.
 
pollinator
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Buildings don't last forever, so eventually either someone else is gonna have to deal with it, or it's going to go into the environment. I think sequestration is the best route, treat it like nuclear waste, because basically any use case for it is just an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

I know there has been some research into using it as a feedstock for gasification, but I'm unsure if the gasification process breaks down all the cyanide and other ultra-toxic compounds. But even if the gasification can be done cleanly, the end result is still going to be a dirty fuel.

In short my main argument against it is that you'd be perpetuating the usage of a toxic substance, which isn't something anyone should be doing.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Incidentally, consider the words "reusing, repurposing, and recycling" it might help  you focus your thoughts better. :D
I reuse and repurpose it.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:There's a fellow on the internet who shreds it himself (from the video, one would need top-notch personal protective gear) and then folds it into cement. ( I *think* cement as opposed to cement with other stuff added already.) He makes panels to build building with, along the lines of things like hempcrete. It's been a long time since I watched the video, but I think these were non-weight bearing panels.

With the cement surrounding the pieces of shredded styrofoam, I don't think fire would be much of an issue. Styrofoam is not just very flammable, it's highly toxic when it burns.



I have a local mostly-permie friend whose husband built his own air-crete making machine, and utilizes any and all styrofoam he can get his hands on, for lightweight builds, but also (mainly) for insulation projects. I'm sure it would be scalable, but the other downsides would still have to be overcome, for  mass production.
 
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I don't think it's the same person that Jay mentions, but there is the guy that is now the "Abundance Build Channel" (Steve?) on YouTube who did a number of somewhat controlled experiments with flammability and insulation of the styro aircrete that he makes.

I think I liked the guy better before the name change.

He has a pretty simple method for shredding and handling the styrofoam.

I don't think it would work as a blow in insulation, but possibly if it could be sprayed with an expanding foam mix? I think when I experiment with this I might try making interlocking stacking blocks so I don't have to have a whole bunch of material all at once.




Jay Angler wrote:There's a fellow on the internet who shreds it himself (from the video, one would need top-notch personal protective gear) and then folds it into cement. ( I *think* cement as opposed to cement with other stuff added already.) He makes panels to build building with, along the lines of things like hempcrete. It's been a long time since I watched the video, but I think these were non-weight bearing panels.

With the cement surrounding the pieces of shredded styrofoam, I don't think fire would be much of an issue. Styrofoam is not just very flammable, it's highly toxic when it burns.

 
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What is your source material?  Odds are it is dirty so how are you going to get it clean?  The problem with glueing small pieces back together to make foam in a wall is what glue, fire hazards, chemical hazards?

My dream here has been looking at the problem differently.  It goes back to 1st semester college chemistry when we were looking at polymer films and their spectral structure.  We took a fairly small amount of cyclohexane and dissolved a medium size Styrofoam cup in it.  The liquid was then put on a shallow plate. We then evaporated the cyclohexane off in the fume hood leaving a clear plastic film behind on the plate that was polystyrene.

So my thinking has been we are approaching the problem wrong??  Most of the foam will be dirty so start out by washing it in water and detergent.  Something like a large industrial dishwasher.  Then dry it.  Then dissolve it in a solvent(there are a number that will dissolve it) that leaves most other plastics untouched but dissolves polystyrene.  Filter the other debris out as best possible leaving a clear to stained polystrene in solvent liquid.  Can we in some way flock this to get other stuff out and get us back to clean clear liquid?  Getting ride of the other things that might be in it?  Then evaporate and condense the solvent to reuse.  Then extrude the polystyrene again as foam.  It will no longer be good for food contact but should be fine to build house foam etc. out of.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:There's a fellow on the internet who shreds it himself (from the video, one would need top-notch personal protective gear) and then folds it into cement. ( I *think* cement as opposed to cement with other stuff added already.) He makes panels to build building with, along the lines of things like hempcrete. It's been a long time since I watched the video, but I think these were non-weight bearing panels.

With the cement surrounding the pieces of shredded styrofoam, I don't think fire would be much of an issue. Styrofoam is not just very flammable, it's highly toxic when it burns.



I was just about to post that I've seen something similar to what Jay described on Youtube. I'm pretty sure the guy I saw did poured concrete/styrofoam sheds in a gothic arch shape.
 
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How do you plan to collect enough foam to make it a business?  You are talking about needing semi loads every week or month.

How do you plan to sell it and transport it once sold?  I am insulating only the roof of my 600 square foot house with used Styrofoam it is a pile 8 feet wide 8 feet tall and 20 feet long.  Imagine how much bigger the pile would be for a normal size house that is also insulating the walls and floors.

How will you clean/sort it?

Loose fill Styrofoam bead insulation is a nightmare to deal with in any future house remodels, any time you open up a wall or attic that is filled with it the stuff just pours out, gets everywhere and because of static is VERY difficult to clean up.

Can you compete cost wise?  In my opinion, used loose fill foam insulation would have to be substantially cheaper than used sheets of foam for me to consider using it.

The R value of loose fill foam would probably be lower than any other type of insulation.  So you would also have to compete for cost per r vale and how much r value you can stuff into a given cavity size.

For loose fill insulation to actually meet its R value rating it needs to be in an airtight and dry cavity.  As soon as any air is allowed to draft through it it's R value is destroyed.  That isn't the case with solid foam sheets.

By chopping it up and reusing it it may actually be worse for the environment than having it go to the dump in large pieces.



Could the chopped up foam be turned back into sheets by putting it in a mold and injecting a small amount of new foam to cause it all to stick together again?  A local spray foam installer gives way his empty barrels but often there is as much as an inch of the chemicals left in the bottom of the barrels,  If you mix those chemicals together from both barrels it may turn into new foam that you could mix with your ground up pieces.

If you get almost any type of chemical on foam the foam will melt and shrink by 90% the resulting putty/liquid can be molded and allowed to dry and harden into a plastic.  Could that be a better use than trying to use it as insulation again?
 
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