County to recycle polystyrene with new gear

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarBill Hardy, manager of the Otsego Reuse Center, loads polystyrene packing material into a densifier machine, as Jason Sullivan, left, warehouse assistant, unloads a bag of polystrene, at the center on Duane Street in Oneonta on Tuesday. A finished brick of compacted material can be seen exiting the machine at bottom, and stacked on a pallet for shipment at right.

For the first time in Otsego County, people can now recycle polystyrene — a versatile material often used in egg cartons, meat trays, coffee cups and more. 

The Otsego County Department of Solid Waste, in collaboration with the Arc Otsego ReUse Center, opened a polystyrene recycling facility that became available to county residents on June 15. The facility is at 23 Duane Street in Oneonta.

Accepted items include meat trays, cups, take-out containers (all white), egg cartons of all colors and polystyrene transport packaging used to protect electronics, according to a media release by the Otsego County Department of Solid Waste. Styrofoam packing peanuts are not an acceptable material. Bill Hardy, Otsego ReUse Center manager, recommends bringing polystyrene materials in a clear plastic bag to staff at the recycling center so they can check it. All material must be empty, clean and clear of stickers and labeling. 

About 30% of landfill waste worldwide is Styrofoam — a material commonly made of polystyrene — and it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Now, instead of sitting in landfills, recycled polystyrene products in Otsego County can be sold to companies to make things like picture frames, and be used in construction.

“The environmental impact is the big thing. It’s something that doesn’t ever disappear,” Hardy said. “It’s environmentally the right thing to do.”

Thirty pounds of polystyrene waste yields one pound of recycled material, Hardy said. To make shipping weight, a pallet needs to weigh 1,000 pounds. The polystyrene products people bring in are dumped into a machine called a densifier, where the material is shredded. A rectangular block of densified material comes out of an outlet of the machine. The densifier is nicknamed “Martha” after OCCA Special Projects Manager Martha Clarvoe, who helped with polystyrene collection. The ReUse Center’s polystyrene recycling efforts provides jobs to people with disabilities, such as storing and stocking polystyrene materials and making sure the materials are ready for the densifier, Hardy said. 

The program was made possible through a $50,000 grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition Grant Program of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, according to the release. No taxpayer dollars were used for the purchase of the machine, Hardy said.

Future plans include staging collection sites at the Cooperstown and Oneonta transfer stations, according to the release.To learn more about how to recycle polystyrene, people can call Hardy at 607-353-7831 or Otsego County Solid Waste at 607-547-4225. 

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.