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June 2004

Dock Foam Becomes Usable as Raw Material

Jefferson City, MO— For years, the white, polystyrene foam that floats many of the boat docks at the Lake of the Ozarks and other Missouri lakes has been an environmental eyesore and boating hazard. Now a business partnership is using dock foam as a raw material for its manufacturing process. This would provide a practical solution for cleaning up discarded dock foam.

Since the use of polystyrene foam blocks for new dock construction was banned in the mid 1990s they have explored using the foam mixed with coal as a boiler fuel. AmerenUE also encouraged inventors who have tried reusing the foam in a variety of products.

Volunteers who clean the lake’s shorelines in the spring and fall with AmerenUE’s Adopt-The-Shoreline effort still report that more than 90 percent of the solid waste littering the lake is dock foam. AmerenUE now requires that dock floatation be encapsulated in impact-resistant plastic containers and has recently launched a dock builder certification program to help reduce the release of dock floatation material onto the lake.

In recent years, researchers have developed organic solvents designed to reduce the foam to a liquid or gel for easier collection or use in other products. Scientists at the University of Missouri - Rolla’s Center for Environmental Science and Technology have developed a soybean-based solution that dissolves polystyrene foam. The resulting liquid can be used as a protective coating on metal, as a wood sealant for decks and wood posts, and many other uses.

BioSpan Technologies Inc., Washing-ton, Missouri has recently teamed up with ETC of Illinois and Missouri Inc., to provide two avenues of reuse for dock foam waste. This spring the team worked with AmerenUE and the shoreline cleanup crews on a pilot project and processed nearly 1,500 cubic yards of polystyrene foam removed from the lake.

During April, ETC Inc. received a total of 2,598 cubic yards of dock foam waste from dock builders, lake cleanup and the general public. Of this, 1,684 cubic yards have been processed at ETC Inc.’s site in Camden County. The firm markets building insulation and soundproofing made from dock foam.

BioSpan’s solvent dissolves dock foam scraps and dirt or water-contaminated polystyrene at a ratio of more than three cubic yards of dock foam per gallon of solvent. The dissolved blend is then used with recycled asphalt in highway cold patching in several midwestern states. Missouri’s Department of Transportation is using the blend in highway construction. The firm also produces preservative treatments for cement, wood and metal from the blend.

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