Brien Ohnemus and his mobile Styro-Constrictor recycling system

Online shopping has made life easier in many ways. But it has created a demand for packing materials to fill the void in shipping boxes. And although some retailers use upcycled corrugated cardboard or air pillows made of recycled materials, you also get your fair share of Styrofoam slabs or packing peanuts.

When you complain about how Styrofoam clings to your clothing, floors, and hands, think about how it clings to the earth too. One man has developed a straightforward way to recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is commonly known by the trademarked brand name Styrofoam. The material is notoriously hard to recycle profitably, but distributed mobile technology may be poised to change that.

Fewer Storage Buildings, One Recycling Machine

“After years in the expanded polystyrene (EPS) industry, I saw firsthand the volume of Styrofoam shipped to landfills,” says Brien Ohnemus, founder of Brohn Tech LLC in Lima, Illinois, and former designer, builder, and developer of packing foam molds, foam manufacturing processes, and foam grinding systems. The EPS must go somewhere, and most materials recovery facilities do not accept EPS in their recycling program because the foam is so expensive to process.

“Nearly every community that tried to do the right thing and recycle ended up losing a lot of taxpayer money in the process,” says Ohnemus. His goal is to eliminate the brick-and-mortar element of EPS disposal and use a mobile recycling system to turn styrofoam recycling into revenue. “If you do away with the building needed in every community to store and recycle Styrofoam, as well as the overhead that goes with it, recycling becomes profitable.”

Ohnemus considers his mobile Styro-Constrictor recycling system as a cost-efficient and effective means to recycle EPS. “I designed the Styro-Constrictor so Styrofoam could be removed from the waste stream and cost communities less than it costs to landfill,” says Ohnemus.

An Economical Styrofoam Recycling Method

Dealing with one box of annoying packing materials at your home is one thing, but retail inventory is a foam beast. From furniture to appliances, books to toys, businesses slog through a massive amount of EPS packaging every day and (hopefully) recycle it. It isn’t easy to simply trash EPS — the material demands attention, whether you like it or not. What if you had a scheduled time and place to recycle EPS?

The Styro-Constrictor recycling system travels from place to place, reclaims foam packaging at the end of its life, and compacts it for reuse. With the Styro-Constrictor, there is no need to haul foam material prior to densifying it. “Since Styrofoam is nothing more than plastic and air, it can be processed and stored outside,” says Ohnemus.

The material is fed through the portable Constrictor, and the compacted material then awaits buyer pickup. “My hope is that communities will see how my development can save millions in landfill cost,” says Ohnemus. The Styro-Constrictor reduces EPS volume by 90 percent. And, with a low cost of operation, it transforms annoying, excessive, earth-unfriendly EPS into a marketable plastic.

Ohnemus’ suggestion: Establish collection points throughout the city at chain stores, large employers, schools, and public buildings. Then establish regular routes to travel to each location for on-the-spot recycling using the Styro-Constrictor, just like weekly recycling and trash pick-ups. Ohnemus is working to get his invention off the ground and market it worldwide.

Get a peek at Ohnemus’ Styro-Constrictor at work in his short video below:

Styro-Constrictor’s Continued Evolution

October 2019: Since we published this article in May 2019, Brien Ohnemus has continued to refine his recycling system. His latest model, the Styro-Portapactor, has the same capabilities as the Styro-Constrictor, but it attaches to the hitch of any vehicle, making it easier to transport to different recycling locations. The new model earned him recognition from the National Waste & Recycling Association as a 2019 Innovator of the Year.

Brien Ohnemus' hitch mounted EPS (Styrofoam) densifier
Ohnemus’ latest model, the Styro-Portapactor, earned him recognition from the National Waste & Recycling Association as a 2019 Innovator of the Year. Photo: Brien Ohnemus

Feature image courtesy of Brien Ohnemus

Editor’s note: Originally published on May 8, 2019, this post was updated in October 2019.