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This is the place to find EPS pack­ag­ing news,
views and answers to fre­quent­ly asked questions.
Jour­nal­ists and edi­tors can con­tact our com­mu­ni­ca­tions team
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FAQs

Here you can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about EPS in one place.

1 | What is expanded polystyrene (EPS)?

Expand­ed poly­styrene, or EPS, is a wide­ly used plas­tic foam. Thanks to its ver­sa­til­i­ty, cost-effec­tive­ness, light weight, and excel­lent insu­la­tion and shock-absorb­ing prop­er­ties, it has been many com­pa­nies’ pack­ag­ing mate­r­i­al of choice for more than 50 years. EPS can be found in a wide range of every­day appli­ca­tions from fish box­es to motor­cy­cle hel­mets as well as a pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing for heavy items such as refrigerators.

This inno­v­a­tive mate­r­i­al was devel­oped in 1949 by Dr. “Fritz” Stast­ny, a sci­en­tist work­ing at BASF in Ger­many. His inven­tion was patent­ed in 1952, and this date marked the begin­ning of the suc­cess sto­ry of a foam that we can no longer imag­ine doing with­out in our every­day lives. In fact, peo­ple in many coun­tries know EPS by dif­fer­ent names includ­ing Sty­ro­por, Air­pop and Flamingo.

2 | What is polystyrene foam?

The term poly­styrene foam can be used to refer to two types of mate­ri­als that have sim­i­lar prop­er­ties but which are the result of two dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion meth­ods. One is Expand­ed poly­styrene (EPS) while the oth­er is Extrud­ed Poly­styrene (XPS).

Sty­ro­por™ is a trade­mark that belongs to BASF and refers to EPS.  Sty­ro­foam™ is a reg­is­tered trade­mark that belongs to Dow Chem­i­cal and is made of XPS.

3 | How is EPS made?

EPS is derived from a raw mate­r­i­al con­sist­ing of sol­id beads of poly­styrene with added pen­tane, known in the trade as gran­u­late.  When steam is applied to the raw mate­r­i­al, it expands. This makes the gas expand and form closed cells of EPS which occu­py approx­i­mate­ly 50 times the vol­ume of the orig­i­nal poly­styrene bead. This would be the equiv­a­lent of a ten­nis ball becom­ing the size of a bas­ket­ball. When expand­ed, EPS con­sists of 98% air and 2% poly­styrene. Because it is a sin­gle poly­mer mate­r­i­al, it is easy to recycle.

4 | Where is EPS packaging used?

EPS can be found in diverse for­mats due to its ver­sa­til­i­ty and dis­tinc­tive prop­er­ties. Its insu­lat­ing prop­er­ties allows it to serve as the mate­r­i­al of choice to pack­age fruits and fish to reduce their spoilage, for instance, or to trans­port high­ly frag­ile human organs. EPS also serves as pack­ag­ing for many heavy white goods and elec­tron­ic and elec­tric (E & E) devices due to its high shock absorp­tion and adapt­abil­i­ty to be mould­ed to any shape required and light­ness. EPS is also one of the most-wide­ly used build­ing insu­la­tion mate­ri­als and used in many oth­er spe­cif­ic applications.

5 | What are the functional benefits of using EPS for packaging?

Dam­age avoid­ance is a top pri­or­i­ty when trans­port­ing high-val­ue, frag­ile items such as white goods. EPS has demon­strat­ed in drop tests, vibra­tion tests and oth­er per­for­mance data that it pro­vides the best pro­tec­tion due to its excep­tion­al and dis­tinc­tive cush­ion­ing prop­er­ties. Smart pack­ag­ing design and the ver­sa­til­i­ty of the mate­r­i­al also mean that it can be mould­ed to dif­fer­ent sizes, strengths and per­for­mance lev­els to pro­tect those part of the prod­uct that are more crit­i­cal and could be sub­ject to wear dur­ing trans­porta­tion, sav­ing pack­ag­ing time and costs. The rigid­i­ty and strength of EPS means that EPS packed goods can also be stacked up to max­imise ver­ti­cal ware­house space, boost­ing capac­i­ty and efficiency.

6 | What are the environmental benefits of EPS?

Because EPS con­sists of 98% air, it is resource-effi­cient by nature. The air con­tained in the closed cells allows for max­i­mum per­for­mance when it comes to shock absorbance and insu­la­tion at a very light weight. This reduces CO2 emis­sions dur­ing trans­port. Its extra­or­di­nary insu­la­tion prop­er­ties, EPS boosts ener­gy sav­ing in its many appli­ca­tions, both con­struc­tion and pack­ag­ing. Such prop­er­ties have been demon­strat­ed thor­ough­ly and sev­er­al com­par­a­tive analy­ses that EPS out­per­forms oth­er pack­ag­ing (and insu­la­tion) materials.

More­over, EPS can be ful­ly recy­cled with­out dete­ri­o­ra­tion and come to life repeat­ed­ly. The Euro­pean EPS indus­try has been active­ly involved in set­ting up col­lec­tion points to boost this and ensur­ing the uptake of recy­cled EPS.

7 | What does the industry do to increase resource-efficiency?

With the pro­duc­tion of expand­ed poly­styrene, the indus­try increas­es resource effi­cien­cy as we reduce the amount of oil that we con­sume. Although vir­gin poly­styrene is a fos­sil-based prod­uct, only a small amount of raw mate­r­i­al is required to pro­duce EPS. This is because EPS effec­tive­ly con­sists of 98 % air and only 2 % poly­styrene, the cells which con­tain the air. Out of every litre of oil used to man­u­fac­ture EPS, up to 200 litres of oil is saved over the life of the prod­uct. The EPS indus­try has been using all means to increase re-use, e.g. by-prod­ucts of the pro­duc­tion process in the same process, to fur­ther increase resource efficiency.

8 | Is EPS packaging re-usable?

Yes,  EPS pack­ag­ing can be re-used mul­ti­ple times, where in par­tic­u­lar prod­uct safe­ty and food hygiene rules allow it.  Com­mon exam­ples include insu­lat­ing box­es in the food ser­vice and cater­ing sectors.

9 | Is EPS recyclable?

Yes, EPS is 100% recy­clable, and it is recy­cled through­out the world. In 2017, recy­cling rates for EPS post-con­sumer pack­ag­ing waste exceed­ed 52% in Bel­gium and Nor­way, 47% in the Nether­lands, 46% in Ger­many, and 38% in Italy, show­ing that EPS recy­cling is eco­nom­i­cal. EPS is an envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly plas­tic, worth col­lect­ing and easy to iden­ti­fy dur­ing sep­a­rate col­lec­tion and sort­ing. Dif­fer­ent com­paction solu­tions are avail­able, depend­ing on the desired out­put. There are many ways to recy­cle EPS, such as mechan­i­cal, phys­i­cal (dis­so­lu­tion) and chem­i­cal recy­cling. The Euro­pean EPS indus­try was one of the first to sub­mit a recy­cling pledge to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and now active­ly con­tributes to the Cir­cu­lar Plas­tics Alliance (CPA) to col­lec­tive­ly achieve the goal that 10 mil­lion tonnes of recy­cled plas­tics are used in Euro­pean prod­ucts by 2025.

Click here to learn more about EPS recy­cling in the EU.

10 | How do I dispose of EPS packaging waste correctly?

EPS waste is a valu­able mate­r­i­al that must always be respon­si­bly han­dled. In prin­ci­ple, EU law already oblig­ates EU Mem­ber States to sep­a­rate­ly col­lect all plas­tic waste (includ­ing EPS). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is still not the real­i­ty every­where. How­ev­er, this is final­ly start­ing to change, and more and more coun­tries are col­lect­ing and thus facil­i­tat­ing the recy­cling of post-con­sumer EPS pack­ag­ing waste, cre­at­ing a grow­ing sup­ply sought after recy­cled EPS. Besides curb­side pick­up, munic­i­pal­i­ties in some coun­tries, as well many EPS pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties and many of the impor­tant com­mer­cial EPS users, oper­ate col­lec­tion points. Many white goods retail­ers take back their EPS pack­ag­ing after deliv­ery. Even where EPS waste is not sep­a­rate­ly col­lect­ed, it can be sort­ed from mixed waste for recy­cling. Chem­i­cal recy­cling even allows the recy­cling of mixed plas­tic waste.

11 | Does EPS contribute to litter in the environment?

The EPS indus­try has been review­ing the evolv­ing research on plas­tic (and oth­er) lit­ter and active­ly fights any lit­ter­ing of the envi­ron­ment – be it of valu­able mate­ri­als like EPS or of any oth­er material.

EPS floats on water sur­faces and is eas­i­ly recog­nis­able, although it is still some­times con­fused with oth­er plas­tic foams. It is not the pri­ma­ry com­po­nent of marine debris in the water col­umn and on the seabed. Fur­ther­more, item counts do not reflect the mass of any pol­lu­tant in the envi­ron­ment. Even when using item counts, less than 1% of all lit­ter found on EU beach­es have been clear­ly iden­ti­fied as poly­styrene (cf. Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Impact assess­ment for the ‘Sin­gle-use Plas­tics Direc­tive’, SWD(2018) 254 final, part 2, pp. 31 et seq., cat­e­gories rank­ing 28 and 53). How­ev­er, poly­styrene in itself is already a broad­er cat­e­go­ry that includes EPS, but also oth­er forms of polystyrene.

In 2019, the Swiss Fed­er­al Lab­o­ra­to­ries for Mate­ri­als Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy found in a study for the Fed­er­al Office for the Envi­ron­ment that EPS is actu­al­ly the least lit­tered of sev­en major plas­tic mate­ri­als, hav­ing a so-called emis­sion fac­tor of 0.037 ± 0.012%. The emis­sion fac­tor is the share of EPS con­sumed leaked into the environment.

12 | How does the industry protect the environment?

The EPS indus­try is ful­ly com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment, includ­ing the marine envi­ron­ment, from any neg­a­tive impacts. To this end, the indus­try has been engaged in many ini­tia­tives, e.g.:

  • EUMEPS’ pack­ag­ing divi­sion Pow­er Parts is a part­ner of Oper­a­tion Clean Sweep (OCS). OCS is work­ing on pre­vent­ing the leak­age of plas­tic pel­lets dur­ing pro­duc­tion, han­dling, trans­porta­tion, con­ver­sion, and recy­cling across Europe.
  • Smart Pack­ag­ing Europe’s sup­port­ers Storopack and BASF broke new ground in 2019 by using mate­r­i­al from an inno­v­a­tive recy­cling process to pro­duce EPS fish box­es and oth­er insu­la­tive food pack­ag­ing. Com­ple­ment­ing oth­er, well-estab­lished recy­cling options for EPS, the process allows for the recy­cling of mixed plas­tic waste.
  • In Italy, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Greece, and beyond, the LIFE-fund­ed project, EPS-SURE has demon­strat­ed that it is tech­ni­cal­ly, envi­ron­men­tal­ly, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable to col­lect, store, pre-treat (com­paction, bri­quet­ting, wash­ing), and recy­cle waste EPS fish box­es into new PS food con­tact pack­ag­ing. Thus, it has closed the loop and over­come chal­lenges that any com­pa­ra­ble mate­r­i­al used for fish box­es faces. Although the final results have not yet been pub­lished, the expect­ed out­come is the reduc­tion of the land­fill­ing of waste EPS fish box­es by 80% in some Euro­pean coun­tries (70% in Spain and 50% in Italy and Greece).
  • In Greece, EUMEPS’ nation­al asso­ci­a­tion, EPS Hel­las, sup­ports an ini­tia­tive led by the non-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion Arch­i­pel­a­gos Insti­tute of Marine Con­ser­va­tion to put in place an exper­i­men­tal net for the clean­ing of sur­face waters from plas­tic waste.