This past week I spoke with Barbara Sherman, co-founder (along with her husband, David Sherman) of ReFoamIt, a recycling company focused entirely on EPS foam (also known as Styrofoam®). Barbara will be speaking on the Transition to a Zero Waste Society: The Role of Organizations & College Campuses panel at the 2016 Net Impact Boston Career Summit on February 26th.
How ReFoamIt works: The company works with individuals, businesses, organizations, universities, and municipalities to collect foam through donation drive events, pickups, and drop-offs at their Leominster location. Volunteers then inspect the foam to make sure there are no labels, tape, or anything food-related remaining before sorting the material for processing. The foam is put through a machine where it is ground and densified, resulting in 14” x 30” blocks of foam that weigh an incredible 50 pounds! These blocks are then shipped to companies who turn the recycled foam into items such as picture frames, clipboards, and greenhouse plant trays.
How did you decide to pursue an impact role in your career?
The fact that we were doing something impactful for the environment was really a bonus point for the business we began. We started by helping out a friend in Rhode Island, who had purchased a foam densifyer and realized he did not have enough material to process. The issue with foam is that it’s so light that if you process 200 coffee cups, after densifying, you’d only have a small block. My husband was looking for something different to do. He’s a machinist – he likes working with machines – and he sold his business and was getting bored, so he capitalized on his background. That’s how we really got started, and we just branched off into a different location so we weren’t competing so much. We continued the pickup service – we pick up from various businesses – and grew from there.
Innovation plays a key role in achieving social and environmental impact. How has innovation helped your organization and where do you see the next few years taking us?
Innovation and uniqueness certainly helped ReFoamIt become the company it is today. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future to the recycling industry – the price of recycled products has dropped tremendously in recent months. We share a space with an electronics recycler, and prices have fallen for all types of materials, so we’re trying to make it through this downturn.
I certainly believe that we can do things to reduce the impact of disposables – there are things we all can do. Let’s deal with the fact that this is not a disposable society anymore, and let’s be responsible!
What is the best career advice you have received?
You have to do what you like. If we were recycling foam to make a lot of money, it wouldn’t be the right career. You have to be willing to be innovative, resourceful, creative, and think outside of the box. All of those things were necessary for ReFoamIt to be where it is today. In 2014 ReFoamIt received the Excellence in EPS Recycling Award, a national award for our innovative initiatives!
Congratulations, ReFoamIt – we can’t wait to hear from you! To learn more about Barbara’s work with ReFoamIt, be sure to register for Net Impact Boston’s Career Summit!