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VOL. 123 | NO. 12 | Thursday, January 17, 2008

MFR Moves Toward Manufacturing Recycled Foam

By Eric Smith

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SLIM AND TRIM: Memphis Foam Recycling, an offshoot of TheCyberYard.com Inc., can take tons of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and condense it to fit onto a single palette. The compacted product reduces waste and can be reused in a variety of products. -- Photo Courtesy Of Memphis Foam Recycling

Reduce, reuse and recycle are chief tenets of the green movement, and a Memphis company is upholding all three of them with a service aimed at the city's numerous manufacturers and distributors.

Memphis Foam Recycling (MFR) is ramping up its Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) recycling effort, which it launched one year ago. EPS is the foam commonly used to protect items during shipping - something that companies in America's Distribution Center do as much as anyone in the country.

Now, as manufacturers look to reuse the material for a wide variety of products, MFR hopes to tap into that market and reduce the amount of post-consumer and post-industrial foam that simply gets tossed into dumpsters each year.

MFR is an offshoot of TheCyberYard.com Inc., which recycles and disposes electronic waste, namely computers, for area businesses. Over time, CyberYard employees began to recognize that their clients were often left with tons of packaging material bound for the landfill.

"One thing led to another," said Gil Montanez, operations vice president for both The Cyber Yard and MFR. "We were into the electronic recycling, and because we deal with distributors, along came the foam. We wanted to do something about their problems."

Memphis Foam Recycling

893 S. Third St.

Old is new again

Thanks to its light weight, protective quality and pliable nature, EPS is widely used for packing material as well as products such as bicycle helmets and insulation. But its weight-to-size ratio makes it economically impractical to keep onsite for reuse.

"It's kind of hard to work with foam because you don't have weight," Montanez said. "It becomes a transportation issue."

That's where MFR comes in. The company picks up used foam at a company's place of business and brings it back to headquarters. There, MFR processes the foam through its recently acquired $100,000 machine that cleans, grinds and condenses the material to one-tenth its original size.

To get the foam from various sites around town back to MFR's processing operation on South Third Street, the company invested in a truck and leases as many 53-foot trailers as it needs to accommodate clients. MFR parks the trailer at the client's warehouse where it can be filled with excess foam.

Once the trailer is full, MFR brings the collected foam back to the facility; 10 trailers carrying 1,200 pounds of foam each can be condensed into a single bundle that fits onto a single palette.

The end product - a fraction of its original size - then can be sold to manufacturers looking to make everything from coat hangers to CD cases to homebuilding materials.

"Polystyrene, when you melt the foam, is clear plastic," Montanez said. "You can do all kinds of things. That's what we specialize in. We try to take these products and transform them into something that can be used again."

Easy way out

The company is actively targeting companies that have a surplus of foam packaging and don't want to simply throw it away, but it's not always an easy sell, Montanez admitted.

"They prefer to landfill," he said. "Most companies that are dealing with this are landfilling it like everything else. It's easier and cheaper and faster. You don't have to sort it and it will not fill up your dock."

But recycling is much better for the environment, of course, which is something you can't put a price tag on in this age of corporate social responsibility. Also, MFR's ability to use its own truck has helped make the option more cost-effective; Montanez said pricing is negotiable based on volume.

MFR is far from a moneymaking operation, but its affiliation with CyberYard keeps it afloat thanks to shared resources and employees.

"The business in itself is hard to sustain," Montanez said. "The foam doesn't generate enough revenue. Everything is dealt with in pennies here and there."

To make the business more profitable, MFR plans to take the "reduce, reuse and recycle" mantra even further by keeping that condensed foam in house and adding the role of manufacturer to its ever-growing list of capabilities.

"Eventually," Montanez said, "what we want to do is go a step beyond by making something out of it ourselves."

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