- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Every spring, as scores of volunteers scour the shorelines of the Lake of the Ozarks looking for trash, much of their haul is chunks of floating, dingy blobs.

Tons of the stuff — polystyrene foam once used to keep boat piers afloat — have broken off over the years and drifted away, turning into an eyesore and boating hazard.

“It’s like Stonehenge in plastic,” said Philip Tremblay, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources’ solid waste management division.

Across the nation, lakes have struggled to get rid of the algae-spotted chunks. Now entrepreneurs are working on ways to recycle the material into products such as wood preservative and a pothole filler.

AmerenUE, a St. Louis-based utility that uses the Lake of the Ozarks in south-central Missouri for power generation, said it saw this mess coming.

It began forcing residents and businesses to remove outdated foam from their piers in the mid-1990s. A 2002 survey determined that about 9,000 piers still were using outdated foam.

Other lake operators have taken similar stances. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started phasing out non-encapsulated foam in the early 1990s. The Grand River Dam Authority, operating a reservoir in Oklahoma similar to Lake of the Ozarks, plans to impose a ban on the older foam in the near future.

But few people have found a way to get rid of the material, which is not considered an environmental threat, once it gets out of the lake.

Betsy Steiner, executive director of the Crofton, Md.-based Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers, an industry-backed group, said that reluctance may be because pier foam is very difficult to recycle in the normal ways.

Pier foam often is full of water and oil and contains metal screws and other fasteners that can damage machines used to shred the foam for recycling. In addition, pier foam represents a very small percentage of the overall amount of foam produced every year, reducing the financial incentive for the private sector to collect it.

But she sees promising developments on the horizon. For example, a plant is set to open in California that would turn foam into diesel fuel.

Missouri companies and researchers have begun coming up with their own ideas.

Washington, Mo.-based BioSpan Technologies, which participated in AmerenUE’s pilot project, has developed solvents that melt the foam into a goo, which can then be turned into different products.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is currently testing two products developed by BioSpan and produced by Illinois-based ETC Inc. using pier foam that fills in cracks in roads and repairs potholes.

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