Styro-Go and Save-On Foods: Tracking Values, Transparency and Expanded Polystyrene  

Styro-Go, an Alberta based company located in Calgary, Alberta, has found great success collecting and baling expanded polystyrene (EPS) from local retailers to be recycled into other goods. This advances jobs, boosts the economy and advances the plastics circular economy.  While the myth prevails that EPS – commonly known under the brand name of Styrofoam – is not recyclable, Styro-Go has been disproving that claim for over seven years and continues to expand its operation.  

Robert Herritt, a representative of Styro-Go’s founding team, explains that in the past organizations avoided recycling EPS due to its high air to plastic ratio, creating transportation challenges that were cost prohibitive as in essence, a company was transporting large quantities of air. Herritt along with Styro-Go’s owners, Ron E. Adam and John Johnson, have been able to mitigate this challenge by developing trucks with equipment onboard to densify the EPS through a thermal process that shreds and melts the plastic into bales that are then transported more cost-effectively, back to a warehouse. Styro-Go is the first commercial entity in North America to do this. The bales are then shipped overseas to be remanufactured into new consumer goods such as picture frames and window moldings.  

Early on in the company’s lifespan, Herritt identified the issue of how recycled materials were handled throughout the value chain, particularly once resources hit overseas markets where regulations for labour and environmental standards were different than North American sites. In forming overseas partnerships for re-manufacturing, Herritt visited a number of factories in China, Malaysia, Spain and Portugal to ensure his own values and standards for the treatment of workers and environmentally conscious practices were being utilized.  

“There are a lot of unethical situations that exist but with research and accountability, a company can form partnerships they can feel good about,” comments Herritt to who this is of the utmost importance along with a successful business model that ensures profitability. “Ideally, these goods would be collected and reproduced here in Canada, but up until recently this was not possible due to the lack of remanufacturing businesses and facilities.”  

After visiting overseas plants, Herritt, with the full support of Styro-Go’s owners, Ron E. Adam and John Johnson, set out to conduct an experiment to show that EPS could be handled ethically.  In order to do this, Styro-Go worked with an established collection site, Save-On-Foods, to follow EPS collected at Save-On-Foods sites, across the globe and back again. Over a number of months, Styro-Go’s crew collected, densified and baled EPS packaging material from eighteen southern Alberta Save-On Foods locations. The crew ensured the bales collected from Save-On-Foods were held on separate pallets in the Styro-Go warehouse so that they could track every step of the process.   

Once enough material had been collected in the Calgary-based warehouse, it was transferred in a sea can from Calgary to Vancouver. Herritt recalls the transportation dates with ease as he took full accountability for the tracking and handling from start to finish.  

“The sea can left our Calgary facility on October 29th, 2021, and then left the port in Vancouver on November 3rd. It arrived at the port in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia on December 12th, and was then transported on trucks reaching the factory on December 20th.”  

Not only did Herritt and his team track the movement of material with shipping companies, he was also able to collect a number of photographs as evidence of the journey – an action not easily accomplished as it required working with privacy laws as well as stopping production in a tightly organized chain of transportation and manufacturing.  

Once the material collected in Canada, hit the production line in Malaysia, it was ground down and reformed into ten-foot lengths of material similar in likeness to spaghetti. From here it was melted and reformed into plastic moulding used in the production of picture frames. The factory graciously stopped the production line once a frame had been made, pulled the frame from the line and signed the back of it and couriered it back to Styro-Go in Calgary.  

Once it arrived back on Canadian soil, Herritt travelled to Save-On-Foods’ headquarters in Langley, British Columbia and officially presented the frame with a certificate, marking Save-On-Foods as the original grocer to join the Canadian Plastics Pact (CPP) goal of zero waste, proving that polystyrene from Alberta’s Save-On-Foods locations had closed the loop.  

Styro-Go set out to prove a company can advance the circular economy with partners who are certified with the values of protecting workers, and the environment, while the quality of products is maintained.  

Styro-Go will maintain overseas partnerships; however, exciting news is on the horizon for the remanufacturing of EPS in Alberta. In December of 2022, Styro-Go confirmed partnerships with Alberta companies who will be able to grind and prepare bales into raw material to be used to produce vapor barrier for homes and foam boards that act as traditional plywood in various construction projects in Alberta.  

“The goal is always to complete the circular economy here in Alberta and we are looking forward to seeing that happen with these new partners while maintaining partnerships with companies with shared values,” concludes Herritt. 

What is the circular economy?

“A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. It is a new way to design, make, and use things within planetary boundaries.

Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals: our communities, our products and our jobs.” – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Styro-Go is a member of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association.  All photos courtesy of Robert Herritt, Founding Member, Styro-Go.