Gilford leading New England in recycling innovation

  • Meghan Theriault shows some of the bricks created by the recycling process. Each unit weighs about 40 pounds. Jon Decker / The Laconia Daily Sun

  • Meghan Theriault holds a recycled foam ingot in her right hand, and a piece of moulding created out of the material in her left. The ingots are created by Gilford's new foam recycling machine.  Jon Decker / The Laconia Daily Sun

  • Gilford Public Works Director Meghan Theriault, left, and staff member Jerrid Tremblay load polystyrene foam into the town’s new foam recycling unit. Employee Jamie Barry, right, carefully feeds the extruded recycled material into a box.  Jon Decker / The Laconia Daily Sun

The Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 7/24/2022 11:40:03 AM

GILFORD — The first foam recycling unit in northern New England was recently installed at the Gilford Recycling Center. Now residents, and soon hopefully others in the area, will be able to bring in their polystyrene foam for processing instead of tossing it in the garbage. The foam is processed on site in Gilford, and the product will be sold to a manufacturer. The money from the sales will go right back into the recycling center, and reduce landfill costs.

“This is the only unit in northern New England right now,” said Meghan Theriault, Gilford public works director, adding that another unit is coming to Vermont soon. “The whole idea is we want to have a few hub locations so that communities can then bring their foam to any of these hubs and we can process it.”

Theriault was elated to start the program after winning a $50,000 grant to help cover the initial cost of the $82,500 unit. She is currently working on another grant to complete the cost coverage and expand the program to surrounding communities.

“This is the unit they delivered us,” Theriault said, showcasing the machine inside a painted shipping container surrounded by polystyrene foam. Behind the shipping container was a tarp-covered pallet containing several “bricks” of the machine’s product, which resemble a pile of rigid, plastic intestines.

The machine, designed by Foam Cycle, processes products like packing materials or meat trays through a large, open-feed system akin to a wood chipper. Once inside the machine, the foam is crushed and all the air is extracted. Many forms of polystyrene foam can be up to 95% air, leaving a much smaller amount of material when it’s extracted.

The leftover product is extruded out a small hole in the side of the machine, where a worker feeds the rope-like material into a square container. The material then cools and hardens to form a small, 40-pound brick.

“It takes about a half hour to process one brick,” Theriault said.

The bricks are then sold to a Canadian company called Soprema at a rate of $900 a ton, which is currently $200 more than what the facility collects for aluminum. The bricks are broken down into fine pellets which can be melted and turned into a variety of products, including moulding. Theriault has a few pieces of moulding made out of the recycled material on site to show curious visitors.

“All the money we make on recycling here, helps offsets the operation of the whole site,” Theriault said. In addition to helping pay for operating the recycling center, recycling foam can mean less space taken up in dumpsters and landfills, which also helps reduce operating costs.

“We had a 30-yard container when we first opened, and we made five bricks out of it,” Theriault said as she revealed a collection of bricks beneath a tarp sitting on a pallet.

The program launched about a week and a half ago. So far, they’ve collected about 6.5 bricks, or about 260 pounds.

“The future of the program is that we are going to allow the general public to drop it in these bins at certain locations,” Theriault said, gesturing to a foam collection bin. “I’m planning on having some of these at Gilford DPW, I would love to have other communities purchase these or to get them via grant and give them to them.”

In order to do this, Theriault said she is applying for additional grant funding to underwrite the cost of purchasing the recycling unit, and pay for extra collection bins that could be given to communities outside Gilford.

“There’s an EPA grant coming out this fall, and I’ll apply for that,” Theriault said.

Gilford residents are encouraged to bring in foam coolers, clean meat and produce trays, packing foam, egg cartons and clean foam plates and cups. All foam must have a #6 recycling symbol to work with the machine.

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